College scandal illuminates pressure and privilege


Colin Henke

College interviewer Rufus Peebles talks to MVRHS juniors about what can be a daunting application process.

Mackenzie Condon, Editor-in-chief

The FBI has so far charged over 50 college coaches, parents, students, and test administrators from around the country in connection with a college admissions scandal they’ve dubbed “Varsity Blues.” The scandal has not only uncovered how these students have been getting into elite schools—by bribing coaches and testing officials, and paying people to take tests—but it has also elucidated the benefits of having privilege in America and the emphasis placed on attending selective colleges and universities.

“I think there is a larger issue here,” said senior Louise McDonald. “Yes, what these people did was immoral, but it is also a reflection of some constructs in our society that have nothing to do with immoral behavior. The severe pressure on kids these days to be attending top tier colleges as well as the significance of wealth being an advantage even when used in morally right ways are both issues that this trial reinforces.”

Guidance Department Chair Mary MacDonald said, “It does shine a light on the pressure the country puts on attending upper-echelon colleges and what students or their parents will do to get there.”

YouTube influencer Olivia Jade, who was caught in the scandal for being falsely designated as a crew recruit for the University of Southern California, has been scrutinized for statements she made on her YouTube channel about not being being interested in the academic scene of the university, only looking forward to the parties, and claiming her parents made her go.

“It is an unfortunate situation, definitely,” said Ms. MacDonald. “It appears [Olivia] didn’t even want to go there in the first place, and she took a spot away from other applicants who now rightfully feel cheated.”

There’s no question that wealth offers significant benefits in the college admissions process, even when it’s not expressed in immoral ways. Wealth provides an opportunity to hire standardized test tutors and private college counseling, and allows students the opportunity to go on costly service trips, often intended to boost their resumé appeal.

“Some students can hire tutors and some cannot,” said Ms. MacDonald. “Some students have the financial ability to train off-island or get extra coaching to bring their athleticism to the next level for college, and some do not. This has been a constant in my twenty-six years here.”

Nic Andre graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School last year after playing club soccer off-Island, which led to his athletic commitment to the College of the Holy Cross. He said, “Without a doubt, getting to that next level requires a serious investment for tournaments or team membership, but also time on the part of the parents in order to bring their child off-Island, which can be a severe burden or impossible for working parents.”

Senior Allyse Guyther said, “I know some students have to work year-round, so they don’t have the time to be the three-sport athlete that some competitive applicants strive to be. Sometimes community service has to be put to the side when a student has to care for a sick family member, and that really is an important type of service too. I’ve heard at many college information sessions that admissions counselors try to be cognizant of these situations when making decisions and don’t hold a lack of opportunity against students.”

Dr. Rufus Peebles is an Island resident who has been a long-time interviewer for Harvard College. “One outcome of the interview can certainly be my being able to relay an adverse situation the applicant faced and how that affected what they achieved in high school,” he said. “There is definitely emphasis put on finding people who are from lower financial backgrounds or who have overcome or dealt with adversity which adds valuable diversity to an incoming class.”

While colleges claim to make an effort to understand an applicant’s limiting or privileged background, hearing that isn’t always enough for students. Junior Dash Christy said, “Either way, I think there is a lot of pressure to achieve certain things in high school, and not being able to attend a summer intensive for a certain academic subject which would reflect passion on a college application, or not being able to be involved in as many clubs or sports if you have to work, would still feel like falling short as a competitive college applicant these days.”