PORTLAND, Ore. — College counselors and those who help teens get into college say the story so many people are talking about, is outrageous.
50 parents, some of them wealthy celebrities, school officials, and others are facing charges for allegedly using bribes to get their kids into top-tier schools. Investigators say SAT scores were doctored, as were athletic records. Investigators say it’s the biggest college admissions scam they’ve ever handled.
Julia Surtshin runs College Ahead, just outside of Portland. She’s an independent college counselor who is also a Certified Educational Planner. When she heard the news, like so many others, she was shocked and saddened.
“It’s apparent that many of the students, or at least some of them, didn’t know what their parents were doing. I can’t even imagine how those kids, how those teens, might feel,” said Surtshin.
Surtshin says the man who has pleaded guilty to playing a central role in the scandal, William Singer, ran a college prep business and is giving others in the profession a bad rap.
“Rather than lumping everybody together, I think it’s important to make that distinction that the vast majority who do this kind of work are professional,” she said.
Jodi Walden is an independent educational consultant for her company, College Admission Coach LLC. in Portland. She has made helping high school students find success in higher education her career.
While parents and prospective students are upset over the admissions scandal, Walden says she is also worried about how it could affect perception of her profession.
“Of course, that can taint our profession, but like any profession it’s individuals,” Walden said. “For the impact on me and the people I know here in Portland, I think we have a lot of people saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that went on’ and say, ‘We had no idea that stuff went on’ because it’s not in our day-to-day experience.”
There are roughly 8,000 independent counselors in the U.S., according to Walden, all of whom must undergo rigorous standards and sign an ethics pledge to be admitted.
“We’re working with this age group because we really love these kids and we want them to become the future leaders,” Walden said.
The U.S. Attorney General for Massachusetts has stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing.
No students were charged, and authorities say in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam.
Walden is saddened for those students and the blow the findings of this investigation may have on their self-esteem.
“It’s sending a really sick subliminal message, because what the kid takes away long term from that is that the parent didn’t believe in me enough that I could achieve this on my own,” Walden said. “I believe that’s a big burden on the students that this happened to in addition to the argument that it takes away a spot from a another more deserving person. And that’s unfair to those students as well.”
Surtshin is also concerned about the teens, and their parents, who are working hard to get a positive college admission letter.
“This is already a pressure cooker of a transition for families and I’m really concerned about families who feel even more stress about this,” said Surtshin.
She said to her, parents shouldn’t necessarily be thinking about an “elite” school. What’s more important is how young adults choose to apply themselves while at the school they attend.
“These parents were clearly doing their kids, their teens, a disservice because even if those students got into those schools, the question is are those schools a good fit for those teens,” Surtshin said.
“This whole scandal just demonstrates how little confidence these parents had in their own kids.”
Surtshin believes people and the world of college admissions need to take a look at what factors contribute to parents feeling such desperation.
Walden agrees with Surtshin and recommends parents and prospective college students aim for schools that fit their unique interests and needs first, instead of focusing on what she calls “name brand” schools.
“If you can’t be yourself and get accepted, then you shouldn’t be going there. You should be going somewhere that wants you as you are,” Walden said.
Walden says this case opens the door to deeper conversations about things that are not illegal but raise ethical questions; such as preferential admission for athletes and if legacy should help in the admission process.