Wednesday, March 13, 2019

College admissions cheating scandal: Its impact on gifted and high ability students

"The system is rigged."

"Why even apply there?"

"Public school kids can't get a break."

These comments, along with outrage and disgust, followed yesterday's college admissions cheating scandal.

Wealthy, well-connected, and celebrity parents were charged with allegedly buying their child's entrance into select, elite colleges. This included bribing coaches, falsifying SAT's, and lying about qualifications. Students were accepted into prestigious colleges lacking the grades, scores, qualifications or sweat equity expected of "unconnected" applicants. Yet, their birthright - and the ethical lapses of their parents - guaranteed admission.

While not a complete surprise, this expose is a reminder that some parents will go to exceptional lengths to aid their child. Like a gross caricature of a helicopter parent, these parents bribed, lied and cheated to "help" their children achieve perceived markers of success. Unfortunately, elite colleges may have been viewed as stepping stones to money and prestige, rather than institutions of learning. Whether the student was a good fit mattered very little; lessons in integrity and honesty mattered even less.

Gifted and high ability students - those most likely to benefit from the stimulating academic environment offered at elite institutions - may be most disturbed by this glaring breach in ethics. These are the students who typically apply to elite colleges, wait patiently, and weather rejections - especially if they are not well-connected, or just not what a particular school wants. Most elite colleges readily acknowledge that many of the applicants they turn away would have excelled at their school - there just were not enough openings. So that valedictorian with high SAT scores and a brilliant essay is rejected because she is yet another high achieving student from New York or D.C. or

I have commented previously on the benefits of elite colleges for gifted students - challenging academics, a community of like-minded peers, exceptional need-based financial aid. I stand by that assertion, and hope that this expose may force them to finally clean house. Most have attracted wealthy donors and catered to wealthy legacy admissions in an effort to raise funds. And while these efforts build the financial aid coffers, preferential treatment toward much less qualified candidates needs to end.

Choose wisely when selecting a college. Consider academics (including programs or honors classes that support gifted learning needs), location, student body size, course of study available, extra-curriculars, the social scene, cost, financial aid, and job placement options. Investigate specific needs relevant to your unique situation, such as college counseling center waiting list, allergy-free cafeteria meals, or cost of off-campus housing. Elite colleges have much to offer, but there are thousands of other amazing colleges from which to choose. Explore those that best fit you or your child's needs.


  1. Gifted students aren't "good enough," but ones with rich parents are-- that what gifted kids see in this scandal.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I hope that most gifted kids don't end up feeling too cynical about this. As parents, educators, counselors and the public in general, we can continue to advocate for change in this area of college admissions.