Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Stop romanticizing top colleges

Photo by Erin Doering on Unsplash

Let’s talk about the college admissions scandal that shook the nation a few years ago. In 2019, a criminal conspiracy lead by Rick Singer was exposed. This scandal consisted of Rick promising wealthy parents that he could get their children into elite American universities through the “side door”, as opposed to having them work hard to get into these colleges through the “front door”. This “side door” meant using Rick’s connection with athletics coaches, a proctor for standardized tests, and more to bribe their way into the school of their dreams. It was a big scandal, one that involved stars like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

It seemed like a lot of people were surprised when news first broke of this college admissions scandal. But not me. I wasn’t even a little bit surprised. At the time, I was a senior in high school devastated by waves of rejections, deferrals, and waitlists from the very same schools involved in the scandal. I was aware of several back doors in the grand scheme of college admissions. On a less criminal scale, I knew that my peers were donating huge sums of money to universities in hopes of getting in, flat out lying on their college applications, hiring people to write their college essays and more. Unfortunately, because of our romanticization of top colleges in America, I also wasn’t surprised that people would go to these extreme lengths to get their kids into these schools. The people who got caught up in this scheme sacrificed their morals for prestige. In the game of college admissions, they wanted a guarantee, and they could afford it. After all, I studied my butt off, played a varsity sport, scored in the 99th percentile in all standardized tests, devoted much of my time to getting into college, and still got rejected by some of the same schools involved in the scandal.

So yeah, hearing about this scandal hurt, but I wasn’t surprised.

Fast forward to 2021. I am now about to finish my sophomore year at what I considered my “safety school” in 2019 and I love it. Two years ago, I regretted not working hard enough to get into Ivies and top 20 schools, beat myself up for taking breaks, admired my overworked peers whose Ivy dreams came true, and felt like worthless when I got rejected, deferred, and waitlisted over and over and over again. In retrospect, I don’t know what would have been had I gone to one of those schools, but I really believe that not getting into my dream schools is probably the best thing that could have happened for me. I saved so much money, made friends for life, and am carving my own path to what I think is success. The only thing I regret now about getting those rejections was being so sad over it.

With a new perspective on college, I watched Operation Varsity Blues, the Netflix documentary covering the 2019 admissions scandal. Listening to FBI wiretaps of conversations between Rick Singer and wealthy parents made me sick. Frankly, their blatant disregard for everything and everyone besides prestige and their acknowledgment that they were participating in criminal activity to send their kids to a school made me angry. In 2019, I was angry because the entitlement and selfishness of these rich families stole spots at top colleges from more deserving students from all economic backgrounds. I felt for my peers who couldn’t afford SAT prep or worked several jobs to keep their families afloat. I felt for myself and my peers who studied our butts off and overworked ourselves just to be told we weren’t good enough. I even feel for my rich peers who were rejected because they wouldn’t stoop low enough to bribe their way in.

Back then, I blamed the parents, Rick Singer, and everyone involved in the scandal. Today, I am also angry at society. How did we get to this point, where parents felt it was necessary to not only drop hundreds of thousands of dollars but risk jail time to get their kids into a university? It’s time for us to take accountability for allowing society to idolize the prestige of top universities. I may not be guilty of cheating my way into college, but I’m definitely guilty of romanticizing an Ivy League education. If you’re reading this, you probably have too.


Today, I want to emphasize that prestige is not everything. The truth is, many colleges offer the tangible things that we are looking for in higher education. From my own experience and the experiences of my friends at different universities, I can finally see that all of our schools offer research experiences, study abroad, job opportunities, and limitless resources. At the end of the day, college is what you make of it. More likely than not, you will thrive at any college you go to if you take advantage of everything that’s there.

Now, I ask you to stop romanticizing top colleges so that we as a society can move past the toxicity of college admissions. By placing emphasis on personal growth, learning, and the individual student journey, we can encourage ourselves and our future children to actually better themselves and the world. At the end of the day, moving away from idolizing top colleges will help us to erase the system that causes mental health problems, scandals, and widespread stress around college admissions.




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Ashley Chang

Ashley Chang

welcome to my caffeinated thoughts

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