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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Operation Varsity Blues

Uploaded: Mar 14, 2019
(written by Lori McCormick)

Considering recent news around, Operation Varsity Blues, the largest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice, it is important to recognize that not all college admissions personnel, college coaches, and college counselors are unethical. Nor are the parents of students applying to college. Yes, parents want the best for their children. However, in my career as a college counselor, I have (fortunately) never come across a family that would go to such lengths as offering bribes, cheating on SAT and ACT exams, or payoffs to get their child into an elite institution. I have struggled first-hand with parents wanting to overstep in their child’s essay writing – I even wrote a blog article about this voicing my concern - and the irony that I quoted the University of California urging applicants to uphold honesty and integrity does not sit lightly with me now knowing UCLA is one of the colleges listed in this scandal.

Now this question is, how do we move on?

How do independent college counselors continue working alongside families (of all socioeconomic status) to support students in the college application process without the assumption that using a college counselor is a guarantee you are gaming the system?

It starts with finding an ethical college counselor.

Like any qualified, ethical college counselor, I support students and parents during the transition from high school to college, with a commitment to equity and access to higher education for all students. I never do the work for the student, and I never guarantee admissions. To do otherwise would be unethical. When you are searching for support with your college applications, do your research. Hire someone who is a member of a professional organization with a strict code of ethics, such as Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) or their regional affiliate. In my experience, any counselor who is a member of these professional associations will be honest, ethical, and equitable. Membership is only awarded after an extensive application process, and in order to maintain membership, counselors must attend conferences and visit colleges every year in addition to adhering to the standards and ethics of the organization. For more information on membership requirements, visit HECA’s website.

I personally take at least 10% of my annual student caseload pro bono. I collaborate with non-profit organizations assisting first-generation students in their college application and scholarship process and write this blog providing free resources to the community. Each counselor will have their own unique set of skills, experiences and interests, which is part of what makes the search process both challenging and ultimately rewarding. Take the time to get to know as much as you can about this individual before embarking on such an important journey with your child.

What is the role of the parent?

Be supportive but don’t push your child to be someone they are not. Accept that not every applicant is on the path to attend an elite college. And while we are on the subject, what does “elite college” mean anyway? Why can’t we shift our perception to “best-fit” college? There might be an academic program offered at a college that isn’t listed on US World and News Report’s Top 50 Colleges that is perfect for a student. Why should they feel shamed by their parents and peers to want to attend the college or university that best aligns with their personal interests and future academic plans? Parents with bragging rights shouldn’t be about the name brand of the college your kid attends, but rather what impact your kid is making in society. Is he/she finding purpose? Are they an engaged learner? Are they a kind human?

What is the role of the student?

Stand up for yourself. Be your own advocate. Stop asking your parents to help you with the small stuff. Pay it forward. Stop feeling entitled – be grateful if you have more than others and give back to those less fortunate. Troubleshoot your own problems first and if you still can’t find a solution, then ask for help. Have a strong work ethic. Allow yourself to fail. You learn from your mistakes, it’s called life. Have grit and resilience, it will get you far in life.

Operation Varsity Blues is not going to be the only college admissions scam – in fact, I think this is the first of many college admissions scams that will surface in due time. To be honest, I am glad this scandal has come to light, because maybe now we can make real change in the college admissions process. Maybe now, we can finally find an ethical, equitable way to get all students, regardless of financial status, accepted to their best fit colleges.
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Comments

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Purnima, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 15, 2019 at 8:15 am

Excellent post, Lori! I couldn't agree more with every point you made.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by student, a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 15, 2019 at 9:02 pm

What do you think of the allegation that Jared Kushner's father paid $2.5 million to get his son into Harvard? Is this legal? Ethical? Do other colleges do the same thing?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Mar 15, 2019 at 10:25 pm

For decades now I have donated regularly to my alma mater. I'm suddenly having second thoughts. Gifts may be indistinguishable from bribes. The more I give, the worse I'll look.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Unwanted Generalizations, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on Mar 16, 2019 at 6:09 pm

Completely agree with an overriding point of your article, that what is most important is finding a good fit for our students, and having a fair, equitable admissions system. I do, however, take issue with one minor mention in your article regarding a school who had a single rogue coach implicated. Just as it's not right to assume all college counselors are bad due to one unethical bad apple, It doesn't seem right to condemn an entire university or university system based on the allegation that one unethical coach acted secretly on their own. It's a universities' duty to provide administrative oversight, but at this point there's no information indicating this instance of bribery was something that could have reasonably been unearthed by the school. And, on a related issue, while it's ridiculous that a Stanford student initiated a class action lawsuit to sue all the schools involved in the scandal because she feels the value of her degree is now diminished, it will truly negatively impact the hundreds of thousands of students who got admitted to these schools legitimately if reporters and others writing about this issue condemn all the schools mentioned without evidence that this is a widespread situation across all of them. While many private and public universities have a different set of standards for athletes, and giving extra consideration to legacies and large donors is an established admissions policy in most private schools (or even perhaps in all of them, I'm not sure about this), legacy and donation history do not figure into the UC system admission policies.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 18, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Bill McGlashan was my classmate and sometime teammate for three or four years here in Palo Alto at Terman and Gunn (I think" and or his sister, T" was) and Fremont Hills.
I have not seen him for years last time just happen to sit behind him on a Jet Blue.
In 2016 while we were traveling for an art installation in Seattle I noticed in the New York Times a fairly lengthy article about Bill and his work in the hedge fund world.
I was more surprised that he got into Princeton than this. Or at the very least he changed a lot between eighth grade and adulthood. Actually his family meaning his father were profiled in about 1980 either here or the town crier or maybe the Times Tribune. They lived in Israel for a year. The father quit high tech to be a cofounder of beyond war here. Bill Junior was quoted in the paper saying he was never serious about school until we lived in Israel for a year.
I circulated a picture of me, Ross elder intern, Greg Logan and I from the seventh grade C team flag football at Terman we happen to be posed adjacent in the group photo which had more than 30 boys


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 18, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Bill McGlashan was my classmate and sometime teammate for three or four years here in Palo Alto at Terman and Gunn (I think" and or his sister, T" was) and Fremont Hills.
I have not seen him for years last time just happen to sit behind him on a Jet Blue.
In 2016 while we were traveling for an art installation in Seattle I noticed in the New York Times a fairly lengthy article about Bill and his work in the hedge fund world.
I was more surprised that he got into Princeton than this. Or at the very least he changed a lot between eighth grade and adulthood. Actually his family meaning his father were profiled in about 1980 either here or the town crier or maybe the Times Tribune. They lived in Israel for a year. The father quit high tech to be a cofounder of beyond war here. Bill Junior was quoted in the paper saying he was never serious about school until we lived in Israel for a year.
I circulated a picture of me, Ross elder intern, Greg Logan and I from the seventh grade C team flag football at Terman we happen to be posed adjacent in the group photo which had more than 30 boys


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 18, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

But overall he is innocent until proven guilty can probably hire the lawyer is which would beat the government lawyers and this does Stanford a service so that they can claim that this is a purification and everyone else it gets in will get in on pure merit.
Our kicker, what is likely the best kicker in school history, for Gunn, and later at Wesleyan so we will all get a chuckle out of the reports that Mcglashen discussed with his confederate photo shopping his sons face and the body of a kicker to cheat onto the football team. There's always advertising.
I'm quite certain there are numerous Palo Alto who remember the McGlashans.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 18, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

On the general topic, and I approach this from many directions it's overrated where you spend years. I think the path you chart and your improvisational abilities between 25 and 30 determine the rest of your time more significantly than fresh out of high school.
The most successful member of our class arguably went to Chico State. Our valedictorian went to Harvard but killed him self it at age 20.
Or, as Thomas Berry, dream of the earth, said in response to a question, at beyond war: there is no model for the individual. Maybe it was Wendell Berry.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by concierge, a resident of Los Altos,
on May 4, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Excellent article! I agree that a few unethical employees who collaborated w/ SINGER at each of these universities, should not besmirch these schools reputation. The employees already have been fired, or will be fired, when the evidence is proven. The schools will have more oversight regarding their admissions policies & will due more due diligence. Coaches will not be able to submit a list of "athletes" to be admittted. I think there will be more oversight at several steps along the way. Most students get admittted deservingly & Admissions Offices shouldn't be looked upon as
corrupt. There are differences bet. admissions policies at some private colleges verus public ones.The private ones aren't getting government funding, so they have more leeway to makee their own rules. I went to a private college in Paris, & to Univer. of CA., a public one. Both have strict admissions standards & no one was admitted due to donated funds or due to their wealth. I much preferred the private college due to smaller classes. University of CA. is my alma mater, & it's an ethical institution overall. The few bad apples will be gone at all of these schools.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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