Varsity Blues: Who’s Really to Blame?

Vinay Khosla, Staff Writer

The 2019 college admissions scandal that rocked the nation and world has once again resurfaced in the new Netflix documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. The investigation, nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues by the FBI, charged fifty separate “co-conspirators” with various felonies including fraud and bribery. The scandal was centered around rich and powerful parents paying huge sums of money to defraud universities and gain acceptance for their children. While the documentary takes a special focus on Rick Singer – the mastermind behind the enterprise – the commentary by college admissions experts offers valuable insight into the causes of such a massive underground business.

Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission, takes a unique approach on the situation, and one which I find mirrors my own sentiments.

“I tend to focus the criticism on the colleges and universities that created this system…this scandal is not necessarily a reason for colleges to change their ways because it makes the colleges seem more exclusive and desirable than ever,” said Golden.

And he is right. While there is absolutely no condoning the immoral and illegal methods by which parents and families gained access to these elite institutions we have to ask ourselves why they were willing to risk everything to do so. Although an obsession with prestige is partially at fault, it’s still not the main perpetrator. I believe the ultra-competitive, succeed-at-any-cost, impossibly demanding academic culture surrounding college admissions is what is to blame. And I speak from personal experience. Education consultant Barbara Kalmus sets up the conversation perfectly.

“There’s so much pressure on these kids. Because if a school offers fifteen APs and you’ve only taken one, you can cross off the top fifty schools in the country.”

Now let’s extrapolate that claim to Dulaney where currently about thirty APs are offered. In order to even be considered an academically rigorous student at Dulaney, it’s my guess one would have to take around fifteen or more APs. Personally, I took twenty. But that alone is not enough because you are also expected to receive straight As in these classes and score highly on the end of the year exams: ideally a 5, but a 4 is acceptable in some cases.

Now this seems feasible enough; work hard and split up these difficult classes across sophomore to senior year, but that’s not all. You also need to take the SAT and/or ACT and score at least a 1500 and 34, respectively. As many SAT Subject Tests should also be taken for a score of 750+ out of 800, not below. Great! Now you’re prepared to apply to elite colleges, right? Wrong.

You still need extracurriculars and activities outside of your academic achievements that will make you stand out (at least ten to fill up your Common Application). But it’s not enough to just be involved in such organizations, you need to lead them (state and national positions are best). Additionally, try to diversify by being a lifetime athlete and/or musician.

And beyond all of this there are miscellaneous pseudo-requirements such as at least three years of high school foreign language classes, being within the top 5% of your class, having an exorbitant number of service hours, excellent admissions essays, wonderful teacher relationships (for those all-so important recommendation letters), and so many more.

I myself followed all of these rules religiously. And it destroyed me. It’s virtually impossible to meet all these requirements—to do everything—and still care for your physical and mental health. I found myself sacrificing my happiness, my mental wellbeing, and my relationships for possible access to the prestige. And I’m far from the only one. Thousands of high schoolers do the same each and every day. Should we really blame these parents for using their means to spare their children from such experiences? They’re just doing what any parent would do if they could.

It’s time to hold the colleges themselves accountable. They have perpetuated an environment of toxic competition and achievement, setting impossible standards for acceptance. Modern institutions have posed a choice to students: prestige or happiness?
After everything I will be attending an Ivy League university. And take it from me, it’s not worth it.