College Admissions Scandal: The Myth Of America’s Meritocracy

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The American dream has always been promoted as being obtainable. Our literature, music, sports, business and personal success stories shared with the public has embodied this ethos for quite some time. The best and the brightest, rise to the top. The rare mark of genius is rewarded with praise and adoration. Only the most competent and capable who achieve what no one else can is deserving of all the luxuries that the world has to offer. No matter a person’s station in life, anyone can come to America and thrive. Anyone can rise from the ashes, become somebody and enrich the generations that follow. These messages have been sold and embedded into our subconscious whether we are fully aware or not, but now is the time to question why we have chosen to believe what has never been completely true.

In the wake of the college admissions scandal that broke last week, the veil has been lifted as the saying goes. Fifty people, all of them wealthy parents in various industries, were charged for using “back-door” methods to gain entry into America’s most elite universities.

Some of the methods included bribery, increasing time to take the SATs by falsely claiming non-existent disabilities, showing examples of athletic prowess by photo shopping faces on to the bodies of other student athletes and paying test proctors to correct wrong answers on the SATs.

William Singer, the owner of a college preparatory business based in Newport Beach, California, has been on the receiving end of criticism, considering how lucrative his business was at helping the children of the wealthy to bypass the traditional college admissions process. Wholesome actresses like Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman have been forced to bear the burden of being the faces of this scandal where they’ve been used as examples to show how some parents will do whatever it takes for their children to enter well-known, reputable institutions.

Why is there such a borderline fanaticism about attending schools like Harvard or Yale or Princeton? Other than a stellar education, what are the untouchable jewels that can be gained from attending Ivy League schools as opposed to any other academically esteemed school? As the college scandal unraveled over the next few days, it was discovered that Lori Laughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade who was enrolled at USC, was on a yacht in the Bahamas with fellow USC student, Gianna Caruso, the daughter of Rick Caruso, the billionaire and chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees.

Buying your child’s way into a well-known college means more than just sharpening your skills in a particular field. It means having the opportunity to enter certain social circles that may have been difficult to penetrate otherwise. And being in these social circles means access to high-profile net worth individuals simply by associating with their offspring, then comes the job opportunities or notable internships that would be at one’s fingertips. Next would be the promotions and the money and the prestige of whatever position someone acquires as one climbs their way up the corporate ladder, with help of course. If you’re lazy, then it could just simply mean attending social functions to rub shoulders with other people of means. Who you know is just as important, if not more important than what you know and this fact has been made even more evident because of this scandal.

Sometimes working hard just isn’t enough when you aren’t born into privilege. The upper echelons of society will always be out of reach when there is a system in place that is easy to step around and that grants immediate access to those who are well off enough to just dangle money in exchange for admittance.

America has never had the rigid class system like that of England or France, so certain mores have persisted without being boldly stated. Increasing inequality and instability in American life has caused a degree of desperation where watching the rich commit such daring acts to get a head start is not being tolerated.

Maybe the message of hard work is something that needs to be told to the less fortunate to give hope; to inspire those with ambition but not the background to take action; and to fight for more through diligence and self-discipline. Because perhaps, it’s better to believe that there is a shiny pot of gold in the end after struggling through an obstacle course rather than to be told after losing a few times that the winner’s spot would’ve been a guarantee— if you simply knew about the short cut.

Morgan Reid completed her undergraduate degree at Temple University. She holds a Masters from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore City.