Georgetown. UT-Austin. Yale….and more. This is not just about buying a building for entry into the top schools…. But about deception and fraud getting students into college … now…at what cost?

Holy college entrance admissions, Batman!!

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The DOJ, FBI, and SAT were the last trinity I expected to wake up to today on my usual morning news ritual. What a strange confluence of entities to experience; my current morning ritual characters barging in on my professional world with “Operation Varsity Blues”! What a nightmare!!! It makes the definition for the price of admission an all together new thing!

As I’m feeling immense sadness, daily, with what is happening at the highest offices of our country, it is now concurrently spilling over into my field. Remember that expose by Daniel Goldman who spoke of Jared Kushner’s curious acceptance into Harvard? This is not even the first we’ve heard about cheating on these exams or pay-to-play to get entry into the most elite schools. There have even been murmurs by some in my field of a select few granting this kind of access – – unethically — to their students. This, however, is the biggest operation (scam) to date, and one that has implicated Hollywood elite, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and another 50 people including a test preparation/admissions company in Newport Beach, a smattering of coaches from the top universities in the USA, college administrators, and SAT and ACT folks…and others.

So it’s first thing in the morning, and I’m feeling indignation that these implicated parents feel so entitled and desperate that they will go to such lengths to advance their children’s careers…all at the huge cost of modeling unethical behavior, lost opportunities for their children’s personal growth and learning, and condoning the robbing of deserving candidates’ rightful positions at these schools. And that some in my field chose to meet ‘this demand’ to create a ‘boutique industry’ to leverage these desires at an exorbitant cost. It’s horrifying. Not all that dissimilar, though, of what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As CEO of a test preparation company and an expert on high-stakes tests (SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, etc.), I can attest that we sometimes get a barely murmured question disguised as a joke, asking for the “fee” to take a test for one of our students. There is no fee. There is no cost. We don’t do it. As an ethical education company, we place learning and self-development as central to our services. We do not model bad behavior, deception, and fraud. I am sure my colleagues feel the same way.

I can attest that we sometimes get a barely murmured question disguised as a joke, asking for the “fee” to take a test for one of our students. There is no fee. There is no cost. We don’t do it.

Whether you love or hate these tests, their function is to compare the performance of large swaths of students to each other. Each school accepts a class of students with a variety of talents, skills, and test scores; and with the same set of questions, it’s an easier task to compare students. Applications and essays vary wildly; grades are the result of inherent subjective grading systems.

So, today I bring a message of hope, insight, and some lessons to share beyond today’s headlines and the strange times we’re living in, all told from the perspective of test-preparation business owner with numerous ethical colleagues in the admissions consulting field. I have worked with hundreds of parents and students, and here are some things to consider as you or your child prepare for their test and the college application process, as we collectively learn about this unfolding Operation Varsity Blues.

  1. We don’t encourage hopping on the pay-to-play trend train. Massage (with ‘happy endings’) parlor owners giving access to high-paying clients to those in the highest offices of our nation is our new norm. Mob mentality is modeled as the way to win. That’s the overlying storyline dominating our newsfeeds. But the meta story, today, at least, is there are some parents who so desperately want success for their child, on their terms, at any price, and they’re willing to cheat and steal.


  1. For parents to pay for their child’s falsified credentials, academic or athletic, in order to ensure admittance to a brand-name school is worse than a parent paying for a new wing or library at a school for admittance; it’s deception and fraud.  By falsifying credentials, a parent is implicating their child in their nefarious illegal activities and/or modeling unethical behavior. This behavior seems antithetical for what I’d think (and hope) most parents would want for their kids, especially at the kid’s gateway to their adult life. Who would want to start out as a legitimate fraud when they’re out on their own, creating their own voice and path, likely for the first time?


  1. At the time of this writing, no students have come forward as rejecting their parents’ efforts and/or implicating them. It sure does put them in an awkward position though, if they knew and/or recognized their parents were acting in such an unethical manner. Not an admirable position to be in… though it sure would make great college essay material!


  1.  In an ideal world, these parents would have been advised to consider this instead: Honoring and celebrating your child’s success on their terms leads to more life-long happiness and satisfaction. What are your child’s talents, skills, and passions? For them to be seen and celebrated by you is among the best gifts they an receive for life-long feelings of security and worth. Manipulating their entrance into an unearned situation and one that requires the subsequent need to uphold that image, is not.


  1. Being accepted into a school is only the beginning of one’s academic career. In some ways, it’s the easiest step. There are more issues to contend with once your child is accepted into schools with botched credentials; for example, once attending a school, will your child be able stay there and thrive?  Retention of students is among the highest issues faced by schools. Attending a school where expectations are higher than your child’s abilities, while surrounded by peers more intellectually driven and endowed could lead to low self-esteem — and this is among the reasons students take time off and drop out of school.


  1. Paying money for someone to get high grades on an online course, changing one’s SAT/ACT answer choices, or falsifying photographs and stats for admittance to a university and/or sports team makes you child complicit in your illegal actions. If your child doesn’t have the abilities and is forced to fake injuries or drop out from the team, they live with your lie, which can take an emotional toll. If they choose to leave school for these reasons, or feel failure, this cost is higher than finding the right-fit school (even without the designer brand.) Support your child to thrive on their terms, and find the supportive outlets and schools to make that happen. That is a much more sustainable model. To this, see # 4 above.

Support your child to thrive on their terms, and find the supportive outlets and schools to make that happen.

Lies and deception buoy your child towards a life of looking to advance no matter the cost. Bone spurs anyone? Is this the world we want to live in? (And when looking at our own highest offices, we already are!) When you take inventory of your child’s talents and determine what schools/programs will help them to thrive, choose the higher path for parenting.

Further, by falsifying your child’s abilities, you contribute to an unattractive ethos of shoving out someone qualified to attend that school. You’ve literally robbed them of their earned opportunity. This is overall douchy-behavior: condoning the fact it is ok to override someone else who is deserving of this opportunity, at all costs, for your own desires. While a parent may have their highest aspirations for their child in mind, from amping up SAT and ACT qualifying exam performance with intercepted scores, answer changes, and/or all the other deceptions depicted in this revealing case, to make your child more attractive (and to pay directly for entrance),it ultimately robs your child of a learning process (of material content on these tests, in the experience of improving one’s weak areas, and in working towards a goal).

The ACT and SAT tests are coachable, and an opportunity for learning and growth. As is the application process, however grueling and intense it is.

And finally, let’s state the most obvious: the ACT and SAT tests are coachable, and the act of studying is an opportunity for learning and growth. When students master the material, employ best test-taking strategies, and have an optimal mindset, they are not only learning what is on the test, they are earning their best score, and learning skills for life! When you child feels great about their score, honest about their performance, and a coming of terms especially after the work and dedication they’ve put in to make that happen, it creates an honest path. Wouldn’t it be a better life lesson to teach fortitude and keeping your eye on the prize, rather than taking illegal shortcuts?


COVID-19 Update

We continue to offer remote tutoring and test preparation sessions while schools are closed. Our 'virtual babysitting' supports parents and their children with extra support, including SAT/ACT/SSAT/Regents/AP tutoring, middle and high school subject areas as well as support for college coursework. We can teach individually or in small groups. Speed reading workshops and test anxiety/stress management coaching are also available.