I’m a person who’s followed celebrity news since I was a kid (like, I had subscriptions to Us Weekly and PEOPLE in fourth grade), and even I did not anticipate the celebrity college admissions scandal blowing up like it has. When the news first broke, I was like, “Perfect. Now that Aunt Becky is relevant again, I can segue more easily into the story about how two women at Friendly’s said I was a dead ringer for her when I was 16.” Also, if we’re being honest, I would drop $500,000 just to not have to endure the embarrassment of having a child who unabashedly calls themselves a “YouTuber” and “influencer.” But beyond that, I was pretty unfazed about the news, because where I grew up, people have been fleecing the college system for years.
Full disclosure: I come from a WASP-y family. I was raised to not take that identity seriously, but to actually find humor in it. That led me to writing satire for a society website called Guest of a Guest, where I make fun of the culture and the people who try so hard to swindle their way into it all the time. I even make fun of myself for falling prey to it: I actually made the GofG list of “Most Pretentiously Named Socialites,” my dog is literally related to the Kennedy’s dog (plus I had relatives that worked for that administration), and I attended a boarding school at which my family boasted a really long legacy (although I only lasted a year). But thank god my family encouraged me to form my own identity, because otherwise, that would’ve made me the biggest douchebag. (I’m still a douchebag because I make snarky remarks about celebs for a living and literally highjacked an article about this scandal to talk about how someone once said I look like Aunt Becky, but at least I’m not wearing a cashmere sweater draped around my shoulders while doing it.) My parents and grandparents would be disappointed if I was too lenient on the WASP identity because it’s tacky and lame to go into superfluous details about that lifestyle, but for the sake of illustrating how common it really is to game the college admissions system, I’m willing to risk sounding gauche, because it does need to be aired out.
First off, I’m proud of the family I come from, because while we were all given a great education, my grandfather taught us humility and the importance of a good work ethic. For the record, my family never once tried to buy their way into schools they didn’t deserve a spot at, and I am grateful they didn’t. Having access to great education and other perks is wonderful, but my parents really wanted to instill in me that there’s so much more to life than going to a name-brand undergrad program straight out of high school.
But I grew up surrounded by and summering with a lot of ritzy prep school kids who didn’t share the same beliefs (even the fact that I use the word “summer” as a verb is a huge tell). So I guess that makes me a ritzy prep school kid as well. I took a gap year after high school and did a program abroad, and the very first day of my program, I talked to a girl who went to an elite New Hampshire boarding school (I’ll let you figure out which one), and she made it very known that she was attending Harvard in the fall. We took classes at a tutorial college and she would skip class and refuse to do homework because, “I’m going to f*cking Harvard.” Ok, Elle Woods.
But some things she said would make me seriously side-eye. This chick was all too open about how lavish her family’s lifestyle was and how liberal her dad was with his AmEx (only later on, he got tried for embezzlement). Ok, whatever. But one big piece of info she kept quiet about? Her grandfather was the president of a foreign country. Yeah. So I had to wonder if she got into Harvard solely on her own merit.
did any one else just assume that celebrities paid to get their kids into college and are shocked that it’s actually illegal
— jaboukie (@jaboukie) March 12, 2019
This is not just me being salty—Harvard literally admitted that they let in wealthier people in hopes of getting more money from them, as if they need it. I even recall asking my parents how the hell our neighbors got all three of their kids into Harvard. Sure, they went to a really great New York prep school, but they also let the Harvard squash coach stay in their guest house for the summer.
I have tons of anecdotes like these, but I’ll save the rest for my book. When I was having dinner with my parents after this whole story broke, I went into the conversation thinking it was funny as f*ck that these people were finally getting called out so publicly, while my parents were disgusted. Huh?
I brought up the story about my neighbors, and my mom said, “That’s different. Those kids are smart.” Is it different, though? It’s just using your privilege, wealth, and access to get what you want. Maybe overt wire fraud isn’t involved, but your hands are not entirely clean.
Now that the Hollywood Bribery Ring has been busted, the only thing helping rich kids get into college are legacy admissions, private tutors, board member connections, unpaid summer internships, interview coaches, and a lifetime of Ivy-bound grooming!!!
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) March 12, 2019
What’s even funnier to me is that my parents were outraged by Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman paying someone to falsify their kids’ SAT scores. I don’t see the big difference between that and donating a building, or giving free lodging to somebody who works at the school. And whether you’re committing blatant fraud, or just throwing money to get your kid into a school you’re not confident they could be accepted to on merit alone, you’re doing a disservice to your child. Like, I know a girl whose dad is a higher-up in finance, and he secured her a job where he works, along with an elite education. When it came time to take the CFAs, she couldn’t pass the test, even after her third time. So she wasted her time and energy (and Daddy wasted his money) on a career she wasn’t cut out for, and she had to endure the humiliation of being fired from a company at which her father is a huge mover and shaker. I’m confident she’s not the only story like that. I mean, Olivia Jade barely went to class at USC after her mom spent hundreds of thousands (and risked prison time) to scam her way in! Do you think she was really going to graduate with honors and a set career path in anything but makeup videos? No. An elite education, a trust fund, and two brain cells to rub together can’t ultimately guarantee you success.
Job interviewer: Tell me about your time at USC
Olivia Jade: pic.twitter.com/qzDMWsyVxK
— Betches (@betchesluvthis) March 15, 2019
But ultimately, what I think should be on trial here is the antiquated education system that American society shoves down our throats. This stifling structure should be questioned because only a small percentage of kids actually thrive in that environment, and it’s sad that parents are wasting money to force their way in. It’s a detriment to their kids’ personal growth, and pretty much everyone’s personal growth, that we all think graduating college by 22 and adhering to a suffocating system like that is the only way to be successful in life. The VP of Google (F*CKING GOOGLE) even said that having a high GPA or going to an elite school has never been an accurate litmus test of whether or not you’d be a promising employee there (yet they funnel in Ivy League grads with 4.0’s so…what the hell?). But until we realize that it really does not f*cking matter where you go to undergrad, wealthy, connected people will continue to finesse their wealth and connections to get what they want—just like they do in every other facet of society.
Images: jaboukie, bessbell, betchesluvthis / Twitter