What the rich know about getting into college.

Sep 2017
5,245
6,309
Massachusetts
#1
As you've probably heard, there's a big new story where rich parents resorted to various forms of fraud and bribery to get their kids into elite universities. The universities are pissed, because it bypasses the normal process by which rich parents buy their kids' way into school, by making large "donations" to the universities -- the bribery is supposed to be the "legtimate" sort, where the university gets their new building. There's a reason that infamously lousy students like Donald Trump and George Bush managed to get into top-flight schools. So, what about the lower-upper-class professionals, with money to spare, but not enough to drop several hundred thousand dollars, much less several millions, to get their dumb and lazy children into elite institutions? There are tips I wasn't aware of when I was in high school (as a middle-class Army brat), that I've become aware of since then:

(1) SAT prep courses. Although I later taught SAT prep courses for the Princeton Review, I didn't even know they existed when I was in high school. Rich parents can essentially "buy" a 100-point boost to their kids' scores by paying for them to be taught proprietary tricks -- more than 100 points if they can afford intensive one-on-one tutoring. That's enough to bump a kid up an entire tier in the kinds of colleges that will accept him.

(2) Extra-curriculars. I played football and did track. That was a mistake. You see, those are sports that aren't effectively the exclusive province of rich, white kids. So, the competition is wide open, and your chances of being good enough to be recruited are very small. I was good enough to start, but not good enough for any college to waste a moment's consideration on me. For the vast majority, it will do nothing to help you get into school. What you want are sports where there's a cost to admission that keeps out a lot of kids, narrowing competition and making it easier for a moderately athletic and motivated kid to excel. That includes sports requiring pool time, rink time, slope time, court time, boat time, etc., which can make it difficult for middle-class kids to train, especially outside of the season. Water polo, crew, sailing, golf, riding, etc., are ideal. Also good are sports that, culturally, tend to be disfavored by racial minorities, which also keeps competition down (swimming, diving, hockey, lacrosse, skiing), and anything where one-on-one instruction is critical for getting really good (tennis, gymnastics, etc.) Rich families can get an extra leg up by paying for sports camps, which not only gives their kids a head start on the competition, but allows the families to make connections to moonlighting college coaches who can put in a word for them.

(3) Jobs. I took whatever jobs paid the most in high school and during the summers, to put as much money away as I could for college. At the time, most of my friends were making $4 to $5.50 per hour, but I sought out the nasty and physically demanding work that would pay a kid $7.50/hour. If I could earn more mucking out dung than doing clerical work in an office, I'd do it. But, what the kids of rich parents were doing was ignoring the pay entirely, and seeking out "enrichment opportunities" that would buff an application. That includes prestigious unpaid internships, or low-paid clerical jobs at target universities or with prominent university alumni who could do a recommendation letter.

(4) Guidance counselors. In high school, I hardly spoke with my guidance counselors. I thought they were there to help the troubled kids. I had my troubles in hand, so I figured they didn't need me wasting their time. Turns out, I should have been developing a relationship with them, since they're sometimes the kinds of people who can pick up a phone and talk to someone in admissions to get an application special attention. Similarly, it's important to ass-kiss teachers and school officials, not just for grade-grubbing, but to develop relationships that can result in glowing recommendations and phone calls to university contacts.

Those kinds of things are the "secret handshakes" that upper-class parents can clue their kids into. I was lucky, in that I wound up with nearly perfect SATs, even without prep classes, which opened a lot of doors to me. But, if I hadn't had that luck, I'd have easily been overlooked. I'm a white guy, for starters, so no special consideration there. And coming neither from the professional class nor the lower class, I lacked both the advantages of the richer applicants (alumni connections and all the special knowledge of what colleges really look for), and of the poorer ones (who can sometimes get special consideration for their economic diversity, if they otherwise qualify).
 
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Jul 2014
35,323
9,278
midwest
#2
College sports scandals..."Pay For Play" has been well known and well publicized for decades.

These admissions scandals are probably just as prevalent, but are now getting the publicity they deserve.

There are different rules for rich and famous people and the rest of us.

The surprising thing is that some people seem surprised.
 
Likes: pragmatic
Mar 2012
54,665
36,305
New Hampshire
#3
Also once in college they pay people to take tests for them and write papers. It was done back in the 80s when I was in college and I imagine now with the internet and paperless tests, its only easier. A professor in a class of 400 gen ed kids doesnt know each student so its easily done. Kids of the wealthy also enjoy being a legacy if a parent or grandparent attended that school. It gives them a big leg up.
 
Sep 2017
5,245
6,309
Massachusetts
#4
College sports scandals..."Pay For Play" has been well known and well publicized for decades.

These admissions scandals are probably just as prevalent, but are now getting the publicity they deserve.

There are different rules for rich and famous people and the rest of us.

The surprising thing is that some people seem surprised.
What's interesting is the way the prosecutors even acknowledged the existence of "legitimate" forms of bribery. Basically, pay the university itself to give your kid admission, in the form of a large "donation," and that's fine. Pay a coach to identify your kid as an athletic recruit to get a leg up in the process, and that's a crime. It's a weird double-standard.
 
Sep 2017
5,245
6,309
Massachusetts
#5
Also once in college they pay people to take tests for them and write papers. It was done back in the 80s when I was in college and I imagine now with the internet and paperless tests, its only easier. A professor in a class of 400 gen ed kids doesnt know each student so its easily done. Kids of the wealthy also enjoy being a legacy if a parent or grandparent attended that school. It gives them a big leg up.
Yep. In my case, I had some advantages in the sense of the emotional and physical benefits of having been raised in a comfortably middle-class household. But my dad had been ROTC at an noncompetitive state school, and my grandparents hadn't even gone to college (or high school, in one case), so I wasn't going to get any alumni consideration at the schools I was looking at. Our family didn't even have much in the way of social contacts among the kinds of professionals who could pull strings. The closest I had was a girlfriend whose mom was an alumna at a good school, and she wrote me a recommendation.

I also wasn't going to get any help, once at school, since I'd passed my parents by, academically, by about 8th grade... I could have been more help fine-tuning their papers for them, than vice versa. I've seen with some of my younger cousins, though, how kids can be helped out at school even when coming from not-particularly-wealthy families. One of my aunts, for example, helped guide her kids mostly into college classes where grades were primarily based on papers, and then she wrote the papers for them (and even sent some to me for proofing). It's really unfair to the kids who do their own work.

I'd like to think that, in the long run, it catches up to those who miss out on education because they didn't have to make their own way. But, it probably doesn't. The "real world" of business isn't all that different, in that people with connections and knowledge of the "secret handshakes" get ahead. For example, I've got a coworker who was the fastest promoted to a particular level in the company, and he's both dumb and lazy. However, both his parents are big-shots in associated industries, and he runs in the same social circles as the most senior execs (both at his employer and at customer companies). So, he was rapidly promoted to the point where his incompetence on substantive matters doesn't even make a difference, since he's presiding over a group of substantively strong front-line workers, and he can spend his time schmoozing and taking credit for their work product.
 
Jul 2014
35,323
9,278
midwest
#6
What's interesting is the way the prosecutors even acknowledged the existence of "legitimate" forms of bribery. Basically, pay the university itself to give your kid admission, in the form of a large "donation," and that's fine. Pay a coach to identify your kid as an athletic recruit to get a leg up in the process, and that's a crime. It's a weird double-standard.
Agree.

Kinda pushing the envelope to bribe your way into an athletic scholarship for kids who never played the sport.

But, as we all know money talks.

Lots of big schools, too:

USC, Yale, USC, Stanford, USC, Texas, USC, Wake Forest, USC, Georgetown, USC...

M O N E Y
 
Sep 2017
5,245
6,309
Massachusetts
#7
Agree.

Kinda pushing the envelope to bribe your way into an athletic scholarship for kids who never played the sport.

But, as we all know money talks.

Lots of big schools, too:

USC, Yale, USC, Stanford, USC, Texas, USC, Wake Forest, USC, Georgetown, USC...

M O N E Y
My daughter is still pretty young, but already I'm starting to think about these things in ways that I feel guilty about. I'm not the sort who would bribe someone or come up with fraudulent evidence of non-existent qualifications for my daughter to get her into a good school. But I will absolutely use unfair advantages that are open to us because we have money. I expect my daughter will get SAT tutoring, when the time comes. I'm going to try to maneuver her into the kinds of extracurriculars that I know will enhance her application. I'll help to polish her applications essays to a fine sheen. I'll make sure she doesn't have to take the highest-paying summer jobs if there are more prestigious unpaid internships available. If I wind up having inside connections at the universities she's targeting, I won't be above making a phone call. And if she applies to my alma mater, I'll definitely encourage her to identify herself as a legacy, with the hopes that will help. I recognize that's all unfair, but it's the shit we do for our kids. In the same sense, if she were black, I'd encourage her to list her race on her application, to get a leg up.
 
Mar 2010
20,174
12,960
Indiana
#8
What's interesting is the way the prosecutors even acknowledged the existence of "legitimate" forms of bribery. Basically, pay the university itself to give your kid admission, in the form of a large "donation," and that's fine. Pay a coach to identify your kid as an athletic recruit to get a leg up in the process, and that's a crime. It's a weird double-standard.
Yeah not illegal to get better consideration for a donation but you have to admit a poor kid isn't going to have that option no matter how bright he or she is and how good their grades are. I dated a girl that was turned down to Havard Law, but the letter said if your father would like to make a substantial donation we could reconsider. The following week she was beside herself that she had been accepted. Hmmm... I wonder what happened? That said, she was a very bright girl and Valedictorian of her high school class, and her undergrad degree was in Chemistry which isn't a slacker degree. She was qualified.
 
Sep 2017
5,245
6,309
Massachusetts
#9
Yeah not illegal to get better consideration for a donation but you have to admit a poor kid isn't going to have that option no matter how bright he or she is and how good their grades are. I dated a girl that was turned down to Havard Law, but the letter said if your father would like to make a substantial donation we could reconsider. The following week she was beside herself that she had been accepted. Hmmm... I wonder what happened? That said, she was a very bright girl and Valedictorian of her high school class, and her undergrad degree was in Chemistry which isn't a slacker degree. She was qualified.
It sucks for people who don't have the inside information. I didn't come from poverty, but I came from the kind of middle class extended family where nobody we knew had ever even tried to get into an elite university. My parents communicated to me what they knew about it, which was basically: get good grades and stay out of trouble. But now, with the benefit of decades of acquired knowledge since then, I realize what a small portion of the puzzle that is, if you're applying to a highly competitive university. You can have straight A's with a tough course-load and not even get a second look from a top-20 university, if you're not checking any of their "diversity" boxes, your parents aren't alumni and/or sizable donors, and you don't have other factors to get you special consideration.... being a celebrity, a recruited athlete, or having an inside connection to someone important in the school. I feel bad for those kids who are busting their asses to be elite academics at the high school level, only to lose out on spots to kids who didn't make half the effort, but fit the right profile.
 
Likes: EnigmaO01
Jul 2014
35,323
9,278
midwest
#10
My daughter is still pretty young, but already I'm starting to think about these things in ways that I feel guilty about. I'm not the sort who would bribe someone or come up with fraudulent evidence of non-existent qualifications for my daughter to get her into a good school. But I will absolutely use unfair advantages that are open to us because we have money. I expect my daughter will get SAT tutoring, when the time comes. I'm going to try to maneuver her into the kinds of extracurriculars that I know will enhance her application. I'll help to polish her applications essays to a fine sheen. I'll make sure she doesn't have to take the highest-paying summer jobs if there are more prestigious unpaid internships available. If I wind up having inside connections at the universities she's targeting, I won't be above making a phone call. And if she applies to my alma mater, I'll definitely encourage her to identify herself as a legacy, with the hopes that will help. I recognize that's all unfair, but it's the shit we do for our kids. In the same sense, if she were black, I'd encourage her to list her race on her application, to get a leg up.
That all sounds pretty good, but wouldn't it be more efficient to just write a check for half a million?
 
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