The Great "Operation Varsity Blues" Scandal of 2019 is still reverberating through the corridors of academe, down school hallways, and around the dinner tables of families of college-bound students everywhere, damaging the prestige of the institutions implicated (which unfortunately included Yale) and casting doubt on selective private universities' claims concerning the fairness of their admissions processes. In the midst of the noise and confusion, Yale.NYC hosted a special panel on May 22, featuring four prominent NYC testing, admissions, and private school specialists, moderated by YC alum Hafeez Lakhani (pictured) of Lakhani Coaching, a private student coaching and college counseling service.
The panelists' presentations, and Q & A period which followed, grappled with many of the same questions and concerns which have been explored in the media in the aftermath of the scandal. The many Yale alumni parents in the audience wondered: Would the fraudulent use of testing accommodations by unethical parents make it more difficult for kids with legitimate learning challenges to secure the accommodation they need (and are actually entitled to by law)? Will colleges now look askance at applications managed and supported by private educational consultants, even those that play by the rules? Are colleges likely now to reconsider longstanding practices associated with legacy admissions and athletic recruitment? Is the whole private college admissions system unfair and in need of major overhaul, or is the corruption largely limited to the few bad actors whose crimes have now been exposed?
The panelists acknowledged that certain readily corruptible practices (such as testing accommodations, testing centers, athletic recruitment, and Development Office influence in admissions) were likely to be tightened: "There were more rejections for extended time in the past year from both the ACT and the College Board." Moreover, given colleges' desire to recruit diverse classes, applications from low-income, first-generation, and other limited-access students are now likely to benefit from greater benefit of the doubt in admissions: "There are only so many spots for students with access." The panelists also urged parents to exercise caution in relation to registering kids for expensive travel service projects or summer programs: "Colleges are wary of pay-to-play programs."
At the end of the day, Lakhani and panelists stressed, the most important thing to cultivate in our kids is character: "Character helps you stand out from the good pile." Productive questions for kids to ask during the college admissions process are not "How can I get into X college" but "Am I cultivating a fulfilling high school career? Where (or in what classes) am I most excited about learning? Where am I challenging myself? What does my ideal life look like?"