So, thanks to a few indictments and arrests, we all know the lengths parents will go to get their children into college. Paying people to take standardized tests. Photoshopping sports pictures. Outright bribes to athletic directors. Crazy, right?

Obviously, we know that getting into college via any one of these days is wrong. Not only is it illegal, it is immoral. It’s cheating of the highest order. These kids do not belong in the schools because they are not as qualified as others who were rejected. They took spots of kids who “deserve” them.

How many kids do you think got into college via the cheating method by their parents? I’m going to say a small percentage. Yes- it happens. Is it a large part of the system? I don’t think so.

But what are other ways kids get into college that could be deemed unfair?

Let’s talk legacies. Legacies are people who have a family history at a particular school. Most often it’s thought of as parents, but can also include grandparents and siblings. There is a misconception that legacies automatically get into a school no matter how bad a student they are. I am going to tell you that is a pretty inaccurate statement. My Daughter has friends and classmates who are legacies. And I am also going to tell you that NOT ONE of her friends who are legacies got into the familial alma mater. Not one. And these are good bordering on exceptional students with all the earmarks of a child that should have a spot. As the admissions counselor at one Ivy said “If we took all the legacies the incoming class size would be about 25,000. So no- people do not get into a school just because there parent went there. In fact, last year at my kid’s school, ten kids applied to a particular Ivy and nine of them were legacies. One child was accepted. And you know that it wasn’t the legacy…

And how about the legacies that are real good with donations. My neighbor- triple legacy (parents, one grandparent and uncle) and the family consistently donated every year, for years. Denied admission. And she was a decent student- not outstanding, but low A average. She is not an exception: we know a lot of families who have given donations and yet their children have not received admission to colleges. And these are decent students.

Clearly not every donor’s child or legacy gets into a school.

One of my blog friend KE said, no child who is subpar should ever get into a school because their parents gave a donation. That’s fair. But don’t subpar students get into schools even when their parents don’t donate money?

Let’s talk about my peeve: college athletics. As Kim stated, without athletics and the subsidies that they provide, the colleges she attended would simply not be able to survive. I get that. I see how much money big time sports programs bring into a school. But isn’t it really the same thing? You might be getting a subpar student in exchange for them playing a sport and that sport brings money into a university. How is that different than getting a subpar student in exchange for a donation? There’s a highly ranked school that also has a wonderful academic reputation- the side reputation is that it’s a tale of two schools- the division 1 athletes who get in without taking standardized tests, and the rest of the school with all SAT scores of 1500+ and ACT scores of 35+. Is that fair that athletes are held to a different standard? You can say that they are particularly gifted in athletics and therefore deserve a place because of this gift. But we can back around to the big donor’s kid: what if they have a special talent of guitar or in some other area? If we are going to hold one group to a standard of academic excellence, then we have to hold all groups to the same standard. Fairness is holding everyone to the same standard.

There’s a whole bunch of other things that happen in admissions. ED, otherwise known as early decision. ED is when a student applies to a school usually by November 1 deadline. But when they apply, they are signing a contract that they are attending the school if they are admitted. No backsies. You are locked in. But here’s the little secret: you can sneak into a really good school via the ED policy. We know kids who were rejected from schools regular decision and they were MUCH stronger all around candidates than kids who were taken ED. Is this fair? Stronger students rejected in favor of students who pledge their eternal love for a school early?

What about having a famous parent? Would Malia get into Harvard if her last name wasn’t Obama? Is there a case to be made that she took the spot of someone who may be more qualified because she was first daughter?

My daughter was the only student from her school to get into a particular college. She knows that two of the students had better averages and scores than her, yet were denied admission. Is that fair? Should admissions be based solely on scores and grades?

Then, you might have people that say: well, you can’t just base admissions on test scores because someone is more than a test score. And grades are subjective…

So what makes one candidate better than another?

Is there anything even vaguely fair about the college admissions process? Should it be based solely on academic prowess? Should special talent be considered along with admissions? What are the things that should go into it?

Is there a way to make the process fair?



27 thoughts on “Who Deserves a Spot

  1. It’s a huge topic for the dinner table with the teens.

    My son for example isn’t very interested in the school extracurricular activities (middle school), but my daughter is. Their resumes look very different…it impacts their potential admission process in the future, and not just with school but also with jobs.

    And the whole athletic thing? Sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, your past couple of posts have made me re-live those stressful years as a high school parent. Legacy: such a tricky question. I think for some schools, not all, it does help make the admissions folks job easier when they have someone right on line. Oftentimes, particularly at the public university my kids attended, admissions knows that if the kid’s parent(s) went there, the family is part of that culture and the odds the student will attend are strong.

    Now athletics, don’t even get me started there. i think college athletics are too intense — it is a full time job in exchange for an education. I had a family friend whose son played football for a Division 2 or so school. He had no life. In exchange for his scholarship, he was expected to be football 24/7/365. He never had the “college experience” a regular student would have.

    Both of my kids could have played club level lacrosse in college and both said no. Once again, too much of a demand on their time. It became too much of an obligation and sucked the fun out of the sport.

    Having said all of that, the high school encouraged sports for the college-bound students. They believed it showed a more well-rounded student to the various colleges. i agreed and also thought with all the stress these kids have, sports were a great outlet. They even got the more bookish (aka nerdy) kids playing badminton for their sport. But high school sports are such an incredibly different culture from college sports.

    I am not sure there will ever been a balanced approach to admissions. Colleges are trying to create this special mix of students and everyone (aka admissions folks) has their own subjective bias. I just had to believe that Karma would put the right opportunity in front of my kids and so far she has done a great job.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are making me feel we had it so much easier years ago. I received a full academic scholarship to SUNY Stony Brook. In exchange, I met with an adviser and attended the expected classes. As long as I kept up my grades, all was good. Sounds like easier times.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We have junior engineer started recently, he’s designing test equipment, working with students and is heading for big BIG things! Trouble is he has not one qualification to his name but his father is Head of our Group! The word nepotism comes to mind also ever-so illegal?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I was talking about athletics, I was casting my net a bit wider than Ivy League. My alma mater has an acceptance rate of 76%, so obviously it’s taking most comers. It’s a public university, and its academic standards aren’t super high. My brother went to the same school and knew a star athlete who just wasn’t bright. When I was there, I attended classes with two athletes who were middling students. And we have several athletes there now who are excellent students, just like we always have. Like the rest of the student body, you’re going to have your subpar students, your average ones, and your exceptional ones. For colleges that have high acceptance rates, I think it’s harder to make the case that a star athlete who is a subpar student is taking the place of a ‘more deserving’ student. For places like Harvard and Yale, whose acceptance rates are 6% and 7% respectively, it’s easier to make the case.

    In the case of my college, the big, glitzy sports that bring in a lot of money help to pay for the smaller, less glamorous sports. In addition to having a championship volleyball team, we have excellent bowling and rifle teams that no one’s ever heard about. The money that football, volleyball, and basketball brings in helps to fund lesser-known sports, in addition to funding facilities the rest of the students use.

    Do athletics come with problems? Yes. Whenever big money enters the picture, you’re going to have problems somewhere, whether it’s a star athlete who’s been slipped past the academic standards for the sake of TV sponsorships or a TV star who bribed officials so their kid could get in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that all schools need money. I totally get that. And I’m all for athletics. But, I don’t like kids going to college and being exempt from classes and academic expectations. I think we need to have a better balance of what student athletes do. How division 1 football and basketball have become the business that they are is ridiculous


  6. You bring up some very good points. I love how you always make me think! Thank you!!
    I realize that college entrance has changed slightly since my children went to school, but being an educator and a parent I have several thought on this. BTW, I personally was horrified at the discovery of the lengths certain celebs went to to get their children into particular schools. . I was fortunate because both my sons were outstanding students and tested extremely well. Both received Bright futures and a variety of other academic scholarships. So, I knew that on a lowly teacher’s salary they’d be able to have those scholarships to fall back on. However, because both sons were interested in specific areas of study, only a few schools offered Sports management in the early 90’s and a degree in film production in the late 2000’s. Now those fields are in many colleges, but at the time my children were interested that wasn’t the case. So, They both had a choice of going to excellent private schools or state schools because they received a variety of scholarships from all the schools they chose. However, they knew that once they made a decision there was no fooling around if they wanted to keep their scholarships. I sure couldn’t afford to pay otherwise. So I know there are certainlycollege choices for outstanding academic students who have top grades. A lot depends on if they NEED financial assistance. And certain colleges offer good scholarships and other schools offer full scholarships etc. Also, extra curricular activities and writing excellent essays help in getting into schools too. Uniqueness is another plus.
    In the end, in my home, college was always my children’s choice, not mine. I’m baffled that any parent would fake grades or cheat to get a child into a particular school. I have some very wealthy friends who could donate substantial amounts but let their children do their own thing.

    In regard to athletics, there are many truly gifted athletes who do deserve to get college scholarships. And their degree is different from other areas of study. Each department has different requirements and no it isn’t equal. A historian isn’t going to need the same requirements as a football player. A pre med student isn’t going to require what a preschool teacher needs.

    My oldest son who majored in sports administration and management had to take many of the same classes that medical students took. Because physical therapy was included in a sports management degree. In fact he did so well in the pre med classes that his instructors tried to get him to become a physician but that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Athletes don’t take the premed classes. He also had to work in a facility with injured veterans and to this day is still close friends with many of those guys. And once a year he participates in a wheel chair basketball tournament where he says they crush him with their ability and technique on the court. There are many intelligent athletes. However, a good many come from poor areas and without scholarships they would never have had a college opportunity. The thing is, an athlete’s career is short, so without an education they go nowhere at the end of their career. So because my son worked a decade for an NFL team in sports administration and received an NFL award in that area, I’ve gotten to know some incredible pro athletes where scholarships gave them a chance. Now my son is the executive director for a non profit organization representing a Hall of Fame athlete, so his friends are a unique group of people who I’ve known since their rookie days. Sports is a world unto itself. But none of these men are stupid. They were all good students.

    My son was a good athlete in high school. But he knew his strength was his brains. He won an award called “scholar athlete” in our entire school district because of his brains. And so he was realistic to know he wanted to be around sports but was never going to be the best athlete. But he could be the smartest guy in the room. So that helped him make his college choices. I wanted him to go into journalism since his talent in writing was/is extraordinary. And he was also a published artist in high school as well. But he was dead set on sports administration/management.

    I think as parents we need to encourage our children to follow their dreams but also be realistic about who they are. We can’t fake their college applications like these celebrities did.. most of us are aware of that and our children worked hard to get into college.

    My other son was making movies from a young age. He was writing filmscripts in elementary school. It’s no surprise that he’s now in the director’s guild and works in the film industry. He turned down the school I wanted him to attend simply because they didn’t offer a good enough film program. I trusted his judgement. He was an AP scholar and was smart enough to know what he wanted to do.

    Parents have a role to nurture, encourage and help save $ for school. But, in the end, each child needs to make their own choice and live up to what it takes to get a good education in the school they want to attend. .

    As far as sports… it’s like medical school. I may be able to run rings around a doctor when it comes to Shakespeare. But I’m a dolt when it comes to surgery and medicine. So there IS a difference in the various schools and departments on campus. Requirements vary per school and dept.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t mind kids playing sports. I do have a problem with the business that college football and basketball has become. Most of these kids are not going to go pro, and I think we need to present them with a more well rounded experience. A football player going to college but rarely attending class is a joke. I think there’s too much pressure in them at too young an age


  7. I think it’s a generalization to say college athletes can’t enjoy the full experience. My son is on his college tennis team and it’s been a great experience bonding with other kids and working toward a common goal. And no, he wasn’t accepted because of tennis nor did he get any money. It’s just something he wanted to do because he loves it. College athletics are great for schools. In fact, many kids choose schools in part because of their sports teams.
    The admissions process is what it is. I doubt it will ever be truly fair.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t mean athletes like that. I mean division 1 basketball and football especially, which are businesses. The recruitment process for these children is ridiculous. And at highly ranked division one schools where one kid has a 1580 and studies all the time walks by a kid who doesn’t go to class at all? I don’t like that at all

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really wasn’t referring to your piece, but to the person who commented and suggested that athletes are so buy they miss the college experience. I agree that recruitment of athletes to elite schools isn’t fair. But it’s the name of the game and what is valued in our society. Looks at the difference between pro athletes’ salaries and teachers. It’s wrong. Unfortunately not a new problem or one easily fixed.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ahh. I had spotty internet at my hotel. I was ok reading comments but winked out trying to do anything else, so I was a little helper skelter. Thought division1 football nd basketball don’t have a college experience. They play a sport professionally, whether we admit it or not. And you’re right, how do we adjust what w3 value?


  8. It’s exhausting. I truly don’t know what to say except in the end I focus on my kids just being good kids and the rest will fall into place. You can’t fight city hall – at least I’m not willing to – and I’ll be just as happy with them at a JC and then transferring.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Personally, I don’t think there is any way to make it truly fair. For one thing, each of us has a different idea of what is “fair,” especially where our children are concerned. I have always believed that fair is a subjective concept. I honestly think the only thing that will help is if we all stop buying into the concept that admission to a certain college is actually worth the enormous time, money and angst that we all put into it. It’s an illusion created by the colleges and universities in many cases…. Yes, I know having a degree from certain colleges does give certain advantages, but none of them are a guarantee of success. In the same way, success isn’t limited to those who go to a prestigious college. It’s must my opinion, but I think we all need to reevaluate just why we care so much about what college we go to.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read your response the other day but had wonky internet at my hotel so wasn’t able to respond. I thought about what you said and sort of wrote a post about it. I’m going to think about this some more

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad it gave you something to think about! And honestly, I don’t expect others to agree with me. Just after going through this process with my own kids, it’s generally the conclusion I came to.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve enjoyed your posts about the college experience. My daughter went to a state university and it is likely my son will in a couple of years also.
    We live in a town with one of the state universities with a big following related to college sports. While I think that college sports like basketball and football can bring in a lot of money, I think they can also bring scandals and bad publicity which cost the school at large. I think your comment about the “tale of two universities is quite apt”. Our mens basketball coach was banned for a couple of games for going into a foul language laced tirade against an official….and his son who plays for the basketball team was also ejected from the game…so embarrassing. But I’m sure the coach won’t be fired any time soon. Our football coach has had both his sons play on his team. One of his sons works as one of his assistant coach for over $600K. That is mind boggling to me. You would think there would be an expectation of less nepotism. Football gameday culture brings in its own set of problems.
    I’m not exactly sure I feel to sympathetic for the football player that is 24/7 doing football. High profile athletes can use the experience for good or they can squander it. Just the name recognition alone can take people a long way and give them opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
    I’m not sure of the admission rate of our local university. I’m a nurse and do student preceptorships with the University’s College of Nursing. As far as the deserve/earn argument goes, I’d really like to see our University try to save most of the seats in its program for in state students, why they do not, I am not sure. I am sure this holds true for some other health related majors within the University. I think our state should prioritize the students most likely to stay within our state after graduation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a fan of the money spent on division 1 sports. I’m not a fan of these kids literally working for the schools. I still think the number one priority of a school should be to learn. I don’t mind kids playing sports. I don’t like the business of sports in college


  11. Division I and II are the only schools that give scholarships for athletics and since they do they should and in some cases expect more from the athlete. My son was a legacy for his Master’s degree and was not accepted even though he has the requisite GPA. I believe that schools that have popular majors fill them up quickly while another major does not, which would explain why some students get in and others do not. My husband is a Division III coach and tells kids to pick the school for the major and not whether they will get playing time, I realize he is an exception because all coaches jobs depend on them putting a winning team on the court/field etc. but he would rather be honest and have the student athlete do well in their studies and graduate with a degree in their chosen field.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think you and your very intelligent and observant commenters have about covered it.

    I didn’t know about ED; interesting concept.

    Maybe someone from one of these panels will come completely clean about the selection process.

    Liked by 1 person

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