The College Admissions Scandal: An Overview


Roselind Zeng, Staff Writer

On Mar. 12, the public was made privy to the large-scale bribery and fraud prevalent in the U.S. college admissions system, involving at least 50 individuals and multiple prestigious schools. The perpetrators are a group of affluent individuals, test coordinators, school officials, and school coaches who coordinated in order to send children to colleges and universities, regardless of whether they had any academic and extracurricular achievements to their name.

Though many are aware of the discrepancies in the college admissions process, this scandal is purportedly the largest one ever prosecuted in U.S. history. The ringleader is William Rick Singer, the CEO of college admissions prep company, The Key. There were two main methods Singer used to help students bypass the orthodox admissions process. According to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, “One was to cheat on the SAT or ACT, and the other was to use his connections with Division I coaches [to acquire] fake athletic credentials.”

In the former method, a parent would facilitate a payment ranging from $15,000 to $75,000, so that another person could take either the SAT or ACT in their child’s place. The test administrators then took bribes to turn a blind eye to these third parties sitting in the exams, who received high marks. Mark Riddell is one of the most prominent heads of the scheme aside from Singer— as a proctor, he single-handedly tampered with and corrected students’ papers, and in countless cases, blatantly sat the exam in place of students. Some families were told to delay the testing procedures somehow, with some even going as far as to claim that their children had learning difficulties and other medical issues; in these cases, the test was split in two and the students moved to another testing center during the second round, thus giving them a leg up.  

In the latter, parents attempted to use college sports scouting as an admissions opportunity. When a student is deemed a potential athlete by a school’s coach, their chances of getting in rise exponentially. Many coaches were closely tied with Singer, who provided them generous payments to secure their support. Fake documents and scores were submitted: some cases have even seen students’ faces photoshopped onto the bodies of real student-athletes, in order to make them appear legitimate.

In regards to these underhanded payments, Singer used the cover of charitable contributions on behalf of the Key Worldwide Foundation, a faux non-profit that laundered parents’ money for nefarious bribes. On the foundation’s website, which has now been taken down, Singer’s mission was to “organically [reach] the world’s most respected families and [provide] a prestigious foundation for THE KEY to growing its offerings worldwide.”

A long list of 50 high profile names has been linked to the case, with federal courts releasing all court documents. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been the most eye-catching, with Loughlin having allegedly paid a total $500,000 for her daughter Olivia Jade to be “scouted” as a member of the crew team at the University of Southern California (USC). The girl, who has been recorded to have said on her Instagram, “I don’t really care about school,” has come under heavy fire for being complicit in her parents’ dealings, as well as for promoting her own social media brand through her college dorm lifestyle. A litany of coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Georgetown, among many others, have surfaced— both men’s and women’s teams have been compromised.

As of now, Loughlin was apprehended by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was arrested and released on $1 million bail. Loughlin paid $1 million bond and was fired from Hallmark for her actions. All defendants involved have been sentenced to felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Singer has pled guilty of all four felony charges placed on him and relinquished $3.4 million out of his more than $25 million profits from the scandal. Students’ attendance at the schools in question will be determined on a case by case basis, at the discretion of school authorities; experts state that those who knew about their parents’ transactions should be expelled.

Many students who have been denied from these top schools have expressed their outrage with class-action lawsuits against these institutions. As a high school senior, Lauren Fidelak was rejected from USC and UCLA, leaving her hospitalized from an emotional breakdown. She is among a group of seven students and parents, who are protesting that they were robbed of precious time and money that was thrown into a system that was “warped and rigged by fraud.” The group alleges negligence, unfair competition, and violations of consumer law as the basis of their suit. The schools, Stanford, USC, UCLA, University of San Diego, University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest, Yale, and Georgetown, all protested that they were the victims of the situation, with all coaches and personnel acting of their own accord and in no way representing the schools’ intentions.

The larger takeaway from the conspiracy are the loopholes that still prevail within the American higher education system. Singer’s foundation and his ploy only worked through the existing legacy admissions and major donor admissions system; these have never been quite as controversial to the public as race-based affirmative action, which is used in efforts to counter racial discrimination rather than harbor undeserving students. With rejected students suing these schools, reforms left to be made will have to be observed in the future.


Photo courtesy of LATIMES.COM