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.