Scholastic Aptitude Transgression


Operation Varsity Blues got lots of attention this week when it was revealed that 50 people were charged - 33 of them parents - in what was billed by the Department of Justice as the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.

As a father of four, now the parent of a college applicant for the final time, I paid particular attention.

This story hit right when many high school seniors and their parents are on pins and needles, just two weeks before they’ll hear final decisions.

There’s no excuse for the alleged conduct of parents in this case.

I just hope the scandal that ensnared some Hollywood A-listers will spur an overdue conversation about the big picture that has created such cutthroat competition for a finite number of slots.

The only thing for sure is that currently, no one is happy.

Asians think they are capped. Other minorities think it’s a game of white privilege.

Those who are white and privileged think the minorities and athletes are reducing slots for their children.

According to prosecutors, Willian Singer, the college admissions consultant, offered two services:

  1. Fraudulently boosting entrance exams

  2. Falsely identifying students as stellar athletes

The latter allegedly involved candidates for the Stanford Sailing Program and the Georgetown Tennis Team, among others.


Now everyone is seeing in this story what reinforces their beliefs.

I guess that includes me.

My SiriusXM Radio listeners know of my bias against the SAT.

The fact that it can be gamed is evident from this case. Studying for it has created a cottage industry catering to the wealthy. It receives undue influence in the admissions process, and I think it is an unfair predictor of performance.

Admittedly, that’s because I did poorly on that standardized test back in the day, but it didn’t hold me back from graduating Phi Beta Kappa.

I see the SAT as part of a vicious cycle.

Consider that last year, Stanford had 47,451 applicants… and accepted just 2,071. That’s an acceptance rate of 4.29%, their lowest ever.

Meanwhile, Georgetown had 22,897 applicants and accepted 3,327 - a rate of 14.5%.

Why would nearly twice as many apply to Stanford as Georgetown? You might say ranking, or climate.


True that according to US News and Word Report, Stanford is #7 in the nation, and Georgetown tied at #22.


And the weather in Palo Alto is more predictably nice than Washington D.C.

But I think there is an additional explanation.

Stanford accepts the Common Application, as do many other schools. Georgetown does not.

So if you are a high school senior, it is far easier to apply to Stanford than Georgetown, so long as you are willing to pay the $90 fee.

But if you want to apply to Georgetown, you must fill out an application just for that school, including numerous Hoya-specific essays.

Georgetown also strongly recommends taking three SAT II exams, which is more than other schools.

Stanford admissions needs to sort through enough files from applicants to literally fill a football stadium.

That puts particular emphasis on the numbers - the SAT in particular.

Probably the reality is the bulk of Stanford applicants have no shot to get it, but they figured:

“What the hell, maybe lightning will strike.


Here’s some good news.

More schools are now discounting the SAT and ACT exams.

According to Fair Test: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing - as of today - 1,023 accredited, Bachelor-degree granting college and universities will make admissions decisions about all or many of their applicants without regard to ACT or SAT scores.

The test-optional list now includes more than half of the nation’s top-ranked liberal arts colleges and a rapidly growing number of selective universities such as the University of Chicago, Wake Forest, Brandeis, American, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and George Washington.

I’m hoping this trend will continue.


Grades earned over years should be of primary import, not performance on a single Saturday morning.


That it will take the edge off competition.

And put families of all economic backgrounds on equal footing.

Again, there’s no excuse for those parents who allegedly did something reprehensible.

But let’s fix the underlying process.