The scope of the recent admissions scandal is now only being fully realized, with at least fifty people charged with being involved in a scheme that included bribing various school officials and cheating on standardized tests. Among the accused are actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, several colleges coaches, and an unscrupulous college admissions “expert” named Rick Singer, who accepted millions of dollars to help get the children of these prominent celebrities into their dream colleges. In the aftermath of this scandal, many selective colleges such as Yale, Georgetown, and USC are now on the defensive, eager to avoid the impression that their admissions systems are partly to blame and also investigating potentially corrupt officials within their own schools.
This scandal holds the potential to dramatically impact future applicants to many top universities. For one, college admissions offices will likely examine students’ activities with greater scrutiny. The recent scandal pointed to weaknesses in the current admissions system’s reliance on a rather superficial evidence for a student’s activities, as was done with Loughlin’s daughters posing as crew rowers even if they had never participated in the sport. Future applicants could consider bolstering the evidence for their activities, perhaps by using social media and videos to show that they have truly participated in the activities they mention on the application. Furthermore, getting strong recommendation letters from reputable mentors could help convince admissions officers that a student truly is passionate about their activities and also very heavily involved.
Another area likely to be closely scrutinized are a student’s essays. Admissions officers have long been leery of essays that might sound like they weren’t written by the applicants themselves, and this trend is only going to be magnified more after the recent scandal. While it is important to get the advice of experts and mentors like English teachers, students and parents should avoid the temptation to get other people to write the essays for them, since this will likely cause “red flags” to go off in many admissions officers minds when they read an essay that no longer has the voice of a teenager. Thankfully, an experienced and conscientious counselor can usually navigate that fine line between advising a student on how to improve an essay and actually writing the essay for a student instead.
Finally, colleges will be looking more and more for evidence that students are of high ethical character, perhaps prioritizing such qualities as much as their academic strengths. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that within the same month that the admissions scandal went public, a report was released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education urging parents and high schools to help cultivate “ethical character” in their students. Already, over the past few years at HS2 Academy, our counselors have noticed a trend in which those of our students being admitted to top universities almost always have very heavy involvement in school and community service. In the coming years, it will also be more important to show that they do so for the right reasons, and that they are the types of conscientious and ethical individuals that top colleges will want as part of their student communities.
While the top colleges will continue to get more selective each year, we should always remember that cheating should not be considered a viable alternative, nor is acceptance into a top college worth tainting one’s sense of morality. Perhaps a positive outcome from this scandal is that it will put more of a spotlight on those students that do things the right way and still succeed.