Honest College Admissions: How Parents and Counselors Can Really Help Applicants

Honest College Admissions: How Parents and Counselors Can Really Help Applicants main image

College admissions in the United States has become such a competitive process that wealthy parents have taken to committing fraud and bribery to help their children get into the best schools.

In early March, William “Rick” Singer pled guilty to committing a slew of crimes related to helping VIP college admissions counseling clients get their kids into college by any means necessary.

There were two tracks for these clients turned criminals. For some, Singer and his henchmen provided fraudulent sports credentials and bribed coaches, so their kids would get accepted into programs through spots allotted to athletes. For others, they organized payoffs from parents to have someone correct or take SAT and ACT tests. In some cases, the applicants knew what their parents were doing, but in others the kids were duped too.  

Uncovering this scandal has led to parents, including Hollywood celebrities and prominent businesspeople, facing jailtime. So why did they do it? Their children are already privileged and therefore have an unfair advantage compared to those with less money and power.

While the argument can be made that these parents wanted their children to have the best opportunities, there is evidence this is also about showing off. Parents at cocktail parties want to be able to say, “My child is going to Yale” and make others jealous. This is a matter of prestige and not just keeping up with the Joneses but outdoing them.

Find the right fit

The real problem is people are getting caught up in the designer labels. In too many instances, parents push their children to apply to and enroll in programs for the brand name. Instead, the first step to transforming how people think about college admissions needs to be recognizing the importance of fit. Kids should do the proper research to determine the following:

  • Whether the school offers the programs they need to accomplish their personal and professional goal
  • How they will fit into the culture
  • If the school fits into their budget (or will provide enough financial aid) and meets their geographical preferences

Solid college admissions counselors – not those who are committing fraud – will help you find the right matches. They will explain the importance of fit to both parents and applicants. They can help everyone realize that a small liberal arts school might help nurture a talent for writing before the applicant heads to law school, for instance.

In addition, they will show applicants how to assess fit and demonstrate to schools in the application that they are a good match with something to offer the university. After all, the application process is truly a two-way street. Sometimes, smaller schools are a better option.

Honest admissions help

Once applicants and their parents narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply, they can start to figure out a strategy for getting in. The first step should be to look at the profile of the most recent class. Pay attention to the types of people enrolling. What’s the average SAT and ACT score? What about grade point average? From where are they coming? How does the applicant match up?

If applicants see the SAT or ACT score is higher than theirs, they should focus on improving their test-taking skills. A good college admissions counselor (and parent for that matter) will help the student study. Even 15 minutes per day working on areas of weakness may make a difference.

Rather than cheating and lying to help their kids get into college, parents should encourage their children to work hard to get good grades. Help them study. If they can afford it, families can always seek the help of tutors. Regardless, creating a rapport with teachers, who can provide extra help and serve as recommendation letter writers, is also wise.

Teaching a child to become disciplined, work hard, and set and meet goals is an invaluable lesson. This kind of help will take them to college and beyond. In addition, it will help them better handle real life, the personal and the professional.

Tell it like it is

The application essay is one of the easiest ways for an applicant to stand out, and parents and counselors should provide feedback and editing. The applicant, however, will be the one writing the essay. It will be genuine with actual facts that can be verified. Make sure it has a beginning, middle, and an end. Within the essay, demonstrate your strengths by providing examples.

Be straightforward but be interesting in your writing to captivate the attention of your audience. Everyone must realize admissions committees read hundreds or even thousands of essays, so mind-numbing ones will get passed over. Most importantly, and this is where the fraudsters failed, the contents of the essays must reflect the applicant’s genuine character and goals. Avoid gimmicks and just tell the truth.

Truth is the key to success

In the end, dishonesty is the worst path to college admissions achievement. Eventually, the school will recognize they’ve been sold a lie and the student risks being demoralized by the lack of faith shown in them by their parents.

Making an honest application means you’ll find a place that meets your needs and can help you pursue your career aspirations. In addition, you’ll be able to handle the rigor because your grades and standardized test scores will have demonstrated your abilities. Most of all, the school and the individual will enter into an honest relationship, one in which both parties know exactly what they will be getting from the other.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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