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Scandal, Part II

 

I was beginning to write the second part of my thoughts on the scandal and I stumbled upon this article in Architectural Digest, dated March 13th, 2019. I honestly thought it was a joke when I first saw the title of the article. I nearly thought I was reading something from The Onion and when I realized what happened, I almost felt sorry for Architectural Digest. This magazine published an article about William Macy and Felicity Huffman that featured their home in Snowmass, Colorado, the day after college admissions fraud story broke. It was probably too late to stop the publication when the scandal hit the news. It is a glossy spread that praises the couple to no end. The link is here if you would like to read it. I put the two most relevant quotes below.  In a direct quote, William Macy says,

“We’ve got extra cross-country skis; we’ve got go-karts; we’ve got horses—anything you want to play with, we’ve got the toys,” says Macy of the stockpile designed to entice their teenage daughters back once they leave for college. But bells and whistles aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to return to a house—or couple—that exudes this much warmth.”

This had my jaw on the ground. Not only did they allegedly commit fraud to get their children accepted at certain schools, but they also have “all the toys” to entice them to come back home when once they leave to attend college, the very school where they were accepted under false pretenses. (Or fraud)

But that wasn’t even the worst part. The author went on to write,

“And it’s not only the promise of good times with an illustrious yet refreshingly real Hollywood couple that is appealing. It’s their genuinely good-natured energy and values, which are reflected beautifully in the antique- and family portrait–studded home, an “old-new house” (as the couple refers to it) with an appropriately rich and poignant backstory.

The line, “their good-natured energy and values” has got to have the people at AD curling their toes. Stay tuned…I thought I would write this blog in two parts but it might take three or four…😡😡😡

 

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Scandal, Part I

Al Roker on the college admissions scandal,

 “I have two words for you, SUNY Oswego”.

 

I am still processing the college admissions scandal that broke this week and trying to collect my thoughts because I am having a hard time getting my head around what happened.

Matt Reed has a blog on Inside Higher Education and I always look forward to what he writes because it is prescient and he is an administrator on a local community college campus where I once worked, so his writing sometimes involves issues quite close to home. He often pens a piece called “Friday Fragments” where he briefly touches on a variety of topics that are not necessarily connected. I decided to adopt his format because I honestly do not know where to begin or how to connect it all. So here goes…

People ask me, “Were you surprised?” Yes and no. I am not surprised that there was cheating going on. What shocks me is how brazen it was. I could imagine a good tennis player with decent test scores trying to bribe a coach. I am still trying to understand the pure cojones of fabricated athletic careers, manufactured awards AND cheating on BOTH standardized tests, to say nothing of the sums of money and the lengths that parents were willing to go to secure a spot for their children. 

The morning after the scandal hit the news, I listened to an NPR interview on my way to work. The broadcasters were expressing sympathy for the “poor kids” whose parents did this. I believe that there are some kids that did not know but I would wager that more knew than didn’t. Getting dressed up in water polo gear and posing for pictures or sitting for images on a rowing machine directly involved the students. They needed to fill out an application citing all of their activities. If they actually did their application, it seems likely that they would have known. And if they did not submit their applications they are still on the hook because you have to sign something that says the application is authentic, see below. 

I called my cousin this week and she answered the phone, “Well aren’t you in the new sexy business!” People jokingly said to me, “Wow! You must be rich!” I had students receiving acceptance letters and the punch line kept getting added, “and without any bribery!” Ugh…

I have heard it said that for the average family, trying to sort out the college admissions process is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. This scandal has been the same for me. I keep writing this blog entry and I keep having to add more to it. I feel like I am drinking from a fire hose…it is overwhelming.

William Rick Singer claims to have worked with over 700 families. I think there could be more charges as the investigation continues. What will happen? What should happen? Will people go to jail? How will schools address the students that are part of this fraud? The Common Application has students sign the following statement. “I certify that all information submitted in the admissions process-including this application and any other supporting materials is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented…I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admissions revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades and degree should the information be certified false.” If a student fraudulently enrolled at a school and applied with the Common App, this verbiage does not bode well for them keeping their already awarded degrees or their current enrollment status.

There is no lack of reading material online about this issue but if you want to see what happened on a granular level, I would suggest the article in Deadspin, here. (And just a warning, get ready to be outraged). But if you don’t have time to keep reading about this, here are two of my favorite quotes because they are so galling.

In the LA Times, in an article titled, “Audacious College Admissions Scandal Left So Many Red Flags Missed By So Many”, I read that Devon Sloan arranged with Singer to have his son admitted to USC with a “coveted” spot on the water polo team. When his son’s counselor at the Buckley School questioned this, Sloan emailed Singer and said, “The more I think about it, it is outrageous! They have no legal right to be calling it challenging/questioning my son’s application.” Let that sink in a minute. He was committing fraud, stealing a spot from a legitimate athlete and had the umbrage to say that it was outrageous and that the school had no legal right to question his fraud.

Gordon Caplan, co-chair of the law firm, Willkie, Farr and Gallagher, said to Singer, “To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.” Think about that for a second. This man is at the pinnacle of the law profession and he “is not worried about the moral issue” of committing fraud. He is just concerned about getting caught.

The College Board and ACT Inc. sure have egg on their face. And I sympathize with all of the teenagers that have legitimate need for testing accommodations. I think these entities will come up with a labyrinthine set of steps that families will have pass through if they need more time or other arrangements for their students. 

I work with teenagers by day, I consult with them privately and I parent them. This has got to be disheartening for high school students all over the country. I hope for their sake that there are meaningful consequences for every group that committed fraud in this investigation. Stay tuned for Part II…

Why I Wish I Had A Magic Wand

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You are your own good news. You can create a future for yourself, full of connection and purpose. Beneath the fear of inadequacy and the self-consciousness that suffuses public evaluation, you’re in there. You have gifts and power and will develop more of both. Tend your crops as best you can and that will be enough. I promise.”

~Kelly Corrigan

This weekend I posted this quote on social media from a letter that Kelly Corrigan wrote. The full piece is here. I was amazed at how many people reached out to thank me for sharing it. Her writing resonated with people in high school, college and beyond. The same weekend that I posted this piece, I was driving some of my favorite ninth graders home after an evening gathering at our house. As I drove, one of my young passengers brought up college admissions and I listened in the darkness as they talked. Finally, I heard a voice from the back of the car say, “Ugh, it is just SO SCARY!” I wanted to pull the car over and tell them that they should not be scared, that they all have loving, supportive families. They are all kind, capable and have shown themselves to be stunningly devoted and caring friends. Each and every one of them has myriad personal skills, gifts, talents and resources that no standardized test will ever be able to measure nor a soaring GPA be able to convey. These kids are all going to shine in high school and beyond. I wanted to stop the car and tell them all of this but I did not because I am not their parent nor their college counselor and it is simply not my place. So I just piped up and said, “Don’t worry! No one should be scared”. But I wanted to quote Kelly Corrigan and remind them of “…their goodness and capacity that is impervious to both recognition or rejection”.

The car ride and the outreach about the Kelly Corrigan piece all in one weekend made me think about the college process and the toll it takes. I have written at length about the path to peace in college admissions here and here. I have written about what I think parents and students should really be anxious about here. (And it is not about getting accepted!) I wish I could wave a wand and alleviate the stress around college admissions that I see. But I am not at Hogwarts and I do not have a magic wand, so I am just going to keep writing and sharing pieces that I think can help people feel less anxious about the journey to college. And to ALL of my 2022 peeps, I will paraphrase Corrigan one more time and say, “I am rooting for you!”

 

A Valentine For My Seniors

 

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I came across a posting on the Grown and Flown Facebook page that caught my eye. A woman wrote about taking her daughter to visit her alma mater and running into a professor that she had studied with when she was an undergraduate. When he learned that her daughter was visiting the college as a prospective student, he gave some sage advice about deciding on a school. His words were so simple and comforting that I thought I would share them with you.

“Almost any school will give you a good education if you work hard,” he went on. “It just doesn’t matter that much. Pick one because you like the size or the area, or because you can afford it. Then go enjoy it. Study hard and don’t party too much, make some lasting friendships. Just go, and be happy. It doesn’t matter where.”

You have all worked hard to compile a list with a range of schools that suit you for a variety of reasons. We have talked at length about loving your list. Your applications were submitted a long time ago. So as we come down the final stretch, take the words above to heart. And when all of the colleges have released their decisions, if you have a hard choice to make, read the paragraph above one more time. You are going to soar in college…you’ve got this! Happy Valentines Day.

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

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If you are the parent of a college-bound high school student, you will probably need to interface with either the College Board and the SAT or the ACT Inc. and their test. I recently gave a presentation that I designed, called “A Path to Peace in College Admissions” and there were multiple questions about testing, when, which, where, etc., so I thought I would write a bit about testing.

The college admissions testing machine is a bit like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series*. The scores that you receive won’t necessarily get you into a school but they can keep you out. Furthermore, many colleges peg their merit scholarships to standardized tests, so if you are going to test, you need to put your best foot forward.

Where: You should be able to sign up for testing on the College Board website or the ACT website. You will take the test at one of the local high schools in your area. They are administered on Saturdays. Testing centers do fill, so the earlier you sign up, the more choices you will have. This is important if your student has accommodations because each testing site has a limited amount of seats for students that need extra time or other testing accommodations.

Which: The SAT test is 50% math and 50% language. The ACT is 50% language, 25% science and 25% math. Your student needs to consider their skills in each of these areas. A student that enjoys math but not science might fare better on the SAT. A student that thrives in the sciences and loathes math might favor the ACT. One way to explore this is to simulate an exam with a practice test from both. You can score them and see if your student favors one test over another. Sometimes the scores are fairly even but other times one test emerges as a stronger option. Either way, colleges accept both tests and there is no advantage or disadvantage to which one you take in the colleges’ eyes.

When: The general rule of thumb is that these tests should be taken in the spring of junior year. But each family needs to look at their personal situation and decide. If your student is an in-season athlete in the spring, perhaps prepping over the winter for the first ACT in February or SAT in March makes sense. If your child anticipates sitting for multiple AP and/or IB tests in the spring of eleventh grade, perhaps getting an earlier start on the SAT or ACT makes sense. The same thing holds true if your child needs to focus on SAT II Subject Area tests in June. Either way, you want to leave school junior year with some hard test scores. If your scores land where you want them to, for the schools that you are considering, great. If not, you have time to plan for more testing between August and December of senior year.

Prep: There are numerous ways to prepare for the test. But let me say this; a motivated student can do their own prep. Before you spend a lot of money on SAT/ACT tutoring, sit down with your child and figure out how much structure they need. There is a wide range of options, everything from a private tutor coming to your home to classes at a local test prep establishment, to online classes and subscription services. Consider the choices, the costs and ask your child for an honest assessment of how much structure and support they need.

Test Optional Schools: One final note on testing-you can skip the testing process altogether. I have worked with families that have students that they knew would not thrive in the testing environment and they decided to forego it completely and apply to colleges that offered a test-optional admissions policy.

*I have to give credit for this Harry Potter analogy to a parent I worked with. It resonated with me because it is so true and I have been using it ever since!

Thoughts on the 2019 Application Season

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I have one last student that is working on essays and as we close out 2018 and look forward to 2019, I have a few humble thoughts on the current admissions cycle.

Don’t Look For Fair-Do you see a Ferris wheel or cotton candy anywhere in the college admissions process? I didn’t think so. Do not look for fair because it is not here. I have parents reach out to me (clients and/or friends) that are floored at how the early decision answers came back. Students that are at the top of their class are overlooked while other applicants that are literally not in the same class academically are accepted. This is an eye-opening part of the admissions season and there is nothing fair about it.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm-Not really. What I mean to say here is that students that are done with their applications and have everything submitted before November 1st for ALL of their schools are going to have a more enjoyable senior year and a relaxed holiday vacation. If you are racing against the January 1 deadline right now, you know what I mean.

ED Has a New Meaning-The early decision round this year seemed increasingly competitive. I heard a colleague jokingly say that ED no longer stands for Early Decision. The initials mean Early Deferral.

Have a List You Love-The stress of the admissions cycle is reduced when a student is not under pressure to receive an acceptance letter from one specific school. When applicants love their list, they can relax and feel confident that they will have some acceptances to sort through and that things will work out for them. I say it all the time and I said it here and here, but it still holds true-love your list!

There is no Tooth Fairy for Tuition-The cost of college continues to grow. Families need to talk about what is affordable for them early in this process and not just hope that scholarships magically appear.

I hope you have a healthy and happy 2019 and good luck to all the current applicants!

 

Why is December 1st Such a Significant Day in College Admissions?

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December 1st is an important day in college admissions because, in exactly five months, every senior must place a deposit at the school that they will attend in the fall. The National Deposit Deadline is May 1st, so seniors are starting to make a turn toward the home stretch.

One of the best people writing regularly about college admissions is the Director of Admissions at Georgia Tech, Rick Clark. It doesn’t matter if you are considering applying to Georgia Tech or not. His blog can help any family that is on the college admissions journey. His latest piece, Preparation Day, speaks to the December 1st phenomena. It’s a real thing!

We are entering a new stage as the early decision schools start to send their acceptances, denials, and deferrals in December. There is an accelerated level of anxiety in many schools as these decisions are released. I wrote the piece below for the very first group of seniors that I worked with, and it still rings true. I hope it is helpful as we begin the final leg of the college admissions process. Enjoy!

As early application results come in, I have noticed a heightened state among college-bound seniors as they wait for results from the schools where they applied. I searched my archives of articles to find something that might help students take stock and maintain perspective, but none of the articles said what I wanted to say, so here are my two cents. Keep your eye on your own ball. Do not pay attention to the admissions chatter. Think about what you are looking for in a college and what you want your life to look like after the 45 months that you will spend at college. Consider your strengths and weaknesses as a student as well as how you learn best. Continue to explore areas of study and career paths that interest you. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish in college like studying abroad or completing an internship. Explore the websites of ALL the colleges where you are applying and see if anything jumps out at you. College admission is just the beginning. The kids that “win” at the college game (if there even is such a thing) are the students that arrive on campus with a sense of purpose, use their four years well and graduate on time. In precisely five months you will be submitting a deposit to the lucky school that gets to have you for the next four years. Use this time to ponder what you want in a college so that when your choices are on the table, you have a deeper sense of what you want in a school.