Throughout my upbringing and education, college was always in my future. I grew up in an environment where college was seen not as a luxury, but as a necessity. I attended a college- prep high school that released the percentage of the graduating class who were to attend a four year university at the end of each school year. They would send out a mass email detailing all the great acceptances that students received: “This year’s graduating senior class got more Ivy League acceptances than ever before!” “100% of this year’s graduating class will attend a four year university!”.
My high school guidance counselor spoke poorly of two-year community colleges and never considered them an option for me because I could “get in anywhere.” She didn’t care about my personal life or how much money my family could save; she cared about numbers and the statistics she would release at the end of the year. So when I got my acceptance letter to my dream school, I was thrilled, and so was my high school. In their annual college acceptance email at the end of my senior year, they highlighted the “best” school acceptances that year, and my invitation to attend the University of Southern California was listed in it. It was all about numbers and bragging rights. My environment didn’t seem to care about the true point of college: education.
Over spring break of my junior year of college, I woke up to headlines and news stories about various celebrities and the elite bribing their kids into college for the small price of hundreds/thousands/millions of dollars. These schools included various Ivy Leagues and… my school, the University of Southern California. These parents had connected with a man named Rick Singer, who outlined how to get their kids into some of the best colleges in the world. There was the “front door” option, which meant kids had to study hard and get into the schools on their own merit and skills. The “back door” option was to make a massive donation to the desired school and hope that you would be noticed and your kid would get an acceptance. Then there was the “side door” option, which was Rick Singer’s specialty. This “side door” allowed the elite to make a smaller payment than they would with the “back door” option, and their kids would get a guaranteed acceptance. Certainty and saving money! Singer was simply bribing university officials and coaches to get wealthy students into top colleges.
After the initial shock of the scandal, I realized that it was really not all that surprising that this happened. The college application culture that seeped into my own small high school is exactly why this happened. My school cared about numbers and bragging rights more than any student’s personal well-being and education, and so did these “Varsity Blues” parents. Olivia Jade Giannulli – daughter of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli – was one of the more infamous students whose parents bribed her into the University of Southern California. Before and during college, Olivia Jade was very outspoken about how she disliked school and did not care for education. She never wanted to go to college, except maybe just to have fun, and admitted multiple times that the only reason she ended up going was because of her parents. College never seemed to be in her future. However, by some miracle, she somehow ended up getting into the University of Southern California: a school with an 11.4% acceptance rate. It was difficult to believe that someone with an attitude like that towards college and education would get into that sort of academically rigorous school , but it makes sense now.
Her wealthy and famous parents bribed and cheated to get Olivia Jade into the school. Which really meant that Olivia Jade’s parents took a spot away from a deserving and hard-working individual because they wanted the bragging rights of having a child at an elite school. They cared so much about appearances that they decided that their daughter was more important, more special, and more deserving than others. Their actions said that the rich and famous deserve more, and better, things than the rest of us. The college admissions scandal forced us to look at something ugly, something broken in our culture, and although it’s unpleasant to face, it’s important to do so we can change.
After spring break came and went that year, and after Olivia Jade dropped out of our school due to “bullying issues,” when classes began after the scandal, the vibes on campus felt strange. One of the most interesting things that I noticed in the weeks following the news of the scandal was that no one was wearing USC merch. Usually, when walking on campus, it was a sea of red and yellow, but at that point, no one, including myself, wanted to represent our school. The whole situation was utterly embarrassing, like we were a part of something shameful. Almost every single one of my professors in that first week back began class talking about what had happened. They emphasized how the situation wasn’t a reflection on us, those “regular people” who got in using the front door method. They told us to ignore the jokes about how all of our parents paid to get us into the school and to simply laugh it off instead. They reiterated how the next few weeks were going to be strange as USC students, but in the end every single one of us deserved to be there.
The gross culture of appearances and entitlement that exists around college admissions needs to end. People have become massively obsessive over what college a person attends and are missing the point of an education entirely. When I was looking at colleges in high school, my guidance counselor should have talked to me about community colleges, but that was taboo in her office. My high school should not release their college numbers at the end of the year, which emphasize some schools over others, because that data does not matter in the slightest. Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli should have never forced Olivia Jade to go to college as she never wanted it and would not value it. We have created such a glorified viewpoint of elite colleges and those who send their children there, and it is wrong.
I am currently a senior at the University of Southern California and I am set to graduate with honors in May of this year. These past four years have been the most challenging four years of my life – full of homework, projects, stress, deadlines, and hard work. I was accepted into the University of Southern California on my own merit, and I will graduate with honors on my own merit as well. I worked so hard to get into USC and I am proud to say that I got in using the “front door” method. I am eternally grateful for the education that I received at my university and it is something that I will never take for granted. I am currently a senior at the University of Southern California and I am set to graduate with honors in May of this year. And while that is impressive due to the fact that I have worked hard (these past four years have been the most challenging four years of my life) it doesn’t make me any more deserving of appraisal and credit than someone who has attended a university without the same reputation. The emphasis on Ivys and certain universities meaning more or being better than others is one we must do away with. It shouldn’t be about names or numbers, but education instead. I don’t care where you went to college.
Art by Jennifer van der Merwe