Bribery & Cheating…….and one seriously corrupt College Counselor
So, I have been working with students and working on a big change that is coming the Meg Glass & Associates, LLC (to be revealed in a couple of months), when I came to realize that I have to stop and pick up blogging again. Why? The BAD Apple. Yes. He is not the first, and sadly, he will not be the last. But one person, who created a scammer college consulting firm, has tainted the whole picture of what private college guidance and counseling is all about. William Singer brought our world to the media’s attention by his unscrupulous actions regarding college admissions and by colluding with people who have the money to spend.
Now Mr. Singer’s actions were reprehensible, and there were many signs about the way his business was operated that indicated it was doing something very wrong. First, the man charged outrageously high fees. I have been in business for 25 years this August. I know what the market is from high to low in my area. Many of us operate now in a virtual world, so our fees now reflect both a National and International pricing picture. No one with ethics would charge anyone ½ a million dollars for college counseling or even a hundred thousand. No person working in college consulting is worth that amount. Period.
My business is currently based in a suburb of New York City, so the fees in this area are a bit higher than those in the Mid-South or Mid-West. However, the fees here are comparable with the other large urban centers in the US, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Most charge hourly rates for some a la carte help, such as essay support, interview preparation, test-preparation, but most charge a flat fee for the entire college process. Quite honestly, it is truly more economical to pay the flat fee, and if needed, you add on some hours at the end. This way the parent has full transparency of this cost. It is truly usually less than 1/2 the cost of one year in college. On the low end for the packaging and process of helping (operative word here is helping) a student starts on the low end at 12-18 thousand and the high end is 25-35 thousand. Rarely, would the cost exceed 35 per student. This is college process, not standardized test preparation, which for most consultants is farmed out to a contracted tutoring concern or billed separately. No one charges hundreds of thousands. In fact, those who charge more than $35,000.00 are often held in check by our professional associations. Just the other day the New York Times ran an article about the Varsity Blues Sting Operation. It cited a particular “ivy” counseling service, which has been kicked out of professional groups because of its rather high fees. We do police each other in many ways. We, like other professions, such as law or medicine, have professional associations in which our ethics, standards, cost structure, and support systems are discussed and agreed upon. There are two standardized test prep companies located in my area, both of which I feel are ridiculously overcharging parents, and I speak up to parents about this as paying $900 an hour is absurd. Paying $600 an hour is ridiculous as well!!
Second, the man submitted his students’ applications for them or had someone in his office do all the work that is required by the student. Now, as a counselor, I will tell you that some students are just not that great at doing the work in a timely fashion. It is why many of us have strict work schedules to ensure the work is being done. I have a system for my flat fee work that requires a specific amount of time to ensure the resume, course selection, college list, college essays, and college applications are completed and ready for submission by October 31. I make sure every student’s entire list is completed and all applications are ready for submission, regardless of deadline choice, by the end of October. I have made sure the student’s scores are submitted and AP’s as well. It is my job to ensure this entire process is completed, but I do not DO the work, which is the student’s requirement. Any firm that takes the work out of the student’s hands, is, in fact cheating. No discussion.
I will tell you that many parents, also, step in and do the work, but I can always tell when a parent has written the student’s essay, and I gently rebuke them, and then I ask the student to tell me in his own words, not his parent’s. Some parents are so afraid and nervous, they will take their child’s essay all over the place, including their offices, to get feedback. I tell students the more the work is handled, the less it stays their own. One parent took his daughter’s essay to his Hedge Fund for input. I received back an “essay” which was a bullet-pointed list of her strengths and weaknesses! After the parent asked specifically on college visits about the essay, the bullets went away, and we returned to his daughter’s original essay. Colleges have often stated to parents and students that often what a student writes about is not as scrutinized as whether the student wrote the essay him or herself. Some students take this to mean that NO ONE can help them with the process, which is not true at all. Many colleges encourage the parents who can afford to get support to do so, as it makes life easier for everyone in the process, ultimately.
Third, William Singer and the parents who are being brought up on charges colluded. Both parties KNEW and conspired to cheat the system in nefarious ways. I work with a large percentage of students who are 504 Classed under the ADA Act. Some have 504 Plans and others have IEP’s; preferably in high school, the disability and the accommodations afforded under the law should be documented in a 504 Plan. Some high schools just use the IEP. Either form must be supported with actual psychological and in some cases, biological, testing that indicates 1) a disability or challenge exists, 2) specific accommodations are granted and given by the school, and 3) if the student is medicated or not. Under the ADA Act there are many disabilities, which are not 504 Class, such as blindness, cerebral palsy, etc. All ADA students are accommodated under the law, not just 504. The 504 Class was often overlooked as many of these disabilities are not so obvious, but they do impact learning, significantly. I have many students who are legitimately classed and deserve support so they can learn. They are not unintelligent; they are challenged by traditional learning and need support to gain access to the knowledge all others are granted. This is not cheating. But William Singer and parents colluded to have an MD or Ph.D. fabricate the records to insinuate such disabilities to get admissions to treat their student as a different class. This is cheating and truly dishonors all those who are genuinely challenged by disabilities. It is atrocious that parents were so willing to do this. I have often morally been challenged to work with specific students, not because the student was necessarily a challenge, but because I had parents who were all to easily and willingly giving their children unnecessary drugs and having Ph.D.’s or MD’s fake a diagnosis. There is a private school in my town where this has happened more frequently than I would like to know, and I slowly distanced myself from working with many of its students. I believe that this practice was particularly encouraged by one Headmaster and was not endemic to the school itself.
Fourth, Mr. Singer’s firm allowed students who had no athletics at all to pose as athletes. He networked a group of coaches in selective colleges and literally offered these coaches bribes to recruit these wealthy families’ children as athletes. The amount of the scandal publicized exceeds 50 Million dollars over approximately a decade. This is repugnant and reprehensible. I have worked with more than one thousand recruited athletes in my career. I admire so many because the level of acumen required to get the grades, scores, and do as well as they do on the field or in the pool or on the court, is amazing. My students have had their bodies abused at such young ages. Coaches are relentless when they have talent. I have had these students working at all hours of the night because they get home late from practices and games, then they must study to keep their grades high, especially to get into AP courses, and they have zero social life. They sacrifice so much for their athleticism. If they are on team, they are fiercely loyal to their team, and they work so hard to keep the team working and gaining. Often, I have had athletes for test preparation because they schedules are so packed, it is difficult for any of these student athletes to fit in a course or go to a tutoring center. I offer house calls to local students and of course virtual sessions to those who live outside of my travel ability. I work around their schedules. My student athletes work for their scores. Many do not achieve what those who play no sports and have that extra time to study do, but athletic recruiting does allow for some give with scores. Not really grades, though. Most NCAA schools do what is called “weighting” with scores. The average score range of the school needs to be maintained, so the members of the recruited group’s scores average must equal that of the school’s entering class. This allows for really good athletes with lower scores to be offered a place because another student whose score is higher will allow for the weighted average of the team to be higher. In my experience, all recruiting will weight scores, but never grades.
What do I mean by ALL recruiting? Well, colleges often recruit a lot of students, not just athletes. Musicians, artists, STEM, minorities, and low-income students are recruited. They are all given the advantage of score weighting. Who is favored is often cyclical for colleges; after the 2008 Global Recession, many colleges, including a few very selective first-tier universities, took huge hits to their endowments. Many also took hits to actual revenue streams and meeting operating costs was a big question. Now, some colleges were more fiscally prudent and had the ability to weather this without large increases in the costs to cover the lost revenue streams, but others were not so lucky. Any major university cannot meet its costs simply from tuition and fees alone. Tuition and fees are typically only one of five or six major sources of revenue a college or university has coming in…athletics often can make a school money, for example, as can scientific research. During the 2009-2014 era, many institutions increased the volume of foreign national admissions. Why? Virtually no American college offers US Government-backed financial aid to any foreign national student. This group must pay full freight. Now some countries work deals with the colleges to support their country’s students to ensure the bills are paid, but then that country controls the pool of students who can attend the American schools, and often there is suspicion of falsifying records, cheating on scores, etc. However, this is filtered and controlled through the country’s government, long before the information is sent to the college. The International College Consulting system is extremely large, and some have branches in the US, which advertise some rather questionable statistics and experience. This stream of foreign national students prior to 2008 for many selective schools was about 2%, but in 2009 many schools, including Ivies, when from a 2% pool to a 12-14-16% pool. Almost overnight, alumni were very vocal against this trend. Since 2015, this trend has started to diminish, as the volume of foreign nationals, both applying and admitted, is declining. There were some scandals with it as well. It became a way to illegally immigrate as some “students” were admitted, but after arriving into the US on a Student Visa, disappeared from the college they were attended. No one could find them. One set of said students arrived to go to school in St. Louis was tracked down in Washington State working illegally, and as it was checked into further, they were really husband and wife. So, this trend had its scandals too. The Justice Department and the FBI started to investigate this back door to illegal immigration rigorously from 2013 onward. Some American Consultants specializing in specific countries were contacted and had to turn over all documentation on their clientele as well as bank records. One such consultant was in my network, and she was forced to change her business, her contracts, and get clearances from the State Department for visas.
Today the trend is to swing admission preference to low-income and first generation students. The pendulum swing in the direction is rather wide. ALL colleges are doing this, and to many counselors this year was a terrifically hard year as some colleges, even those which were on the quote “cheaters” list are boasting about these admission statistics. Some colleges have admitted for the Class of 2024 over 60% from low-income, first generation pool. This is difficult. Why? Those in that category are allowed to have score weighting, and the 40% who are not from that group have to have higher scores to maintain the school’s average. This is also patently unfair, but it is a policy choice made by colleges that has been enacted to counteract the politically charged button that hit the colleges in the past decade. These students are being offered way more financial compensation than ever before, and these students are often given extreme support to keep them in school.
It is also a trend. It will begin to subside in a few years when it is challenged in the courts as unfair; the courts are often where such policy choices, based really on politics, end up. The Michigan Ruling of 2003 was just such a decision because of the unfair practices that colleges used to meet affirmative action guidelines. It took the Supreme Court to slap the hands of colleges that were declining qualified over unqualified simply to pass an EEO guideline, and at the cost of all the other qualified students. Further, as one very large state’s university system, which has been before the Supreme Court a few times and found to be fair, showed that it takes triple the cost to the state to keep the low-income, first generation, who do not have the qualifications as those in the regular pool, in school long enough to graduate. It also takes triple the resources to remediate what was lacking from secondary school. The colleges are also offering social integration classes, etiquette classes, one-on-one weekly counseling and therapy to adjust, etc. The costs of which are factored into the fees and tuition that all other students pay, as so little of this remediation and adjustment program is financed by donations. It is a challenge to try to right wrongs of society through college, and it is costly too. In the long run having a society that is educated in correct, but the how we get there is bound to be a continual struggle for consensus.
Lastly, Mr. Singer used collusion to cheat on standardized test scores. Cheating on the SAT or ACT is not new. It has been an issue forever. The College Board has been run ragged with the constant cheating cases in Asia. It cannot keep up with the accusations of cheating in some places, and there are investigations and lawsuits going on with both tests. There is a YouTube video of parents in Korea trying to help their children cheat on the test by throwing answers to questions over a wall into the school! The last big US scandal that hit the media was about a decade ago when a Duke student was caught taking the test for many in his former high school in Long Island. Students were paying him to take the test for them. He would take the test each time it was given for a different student. He had to take the test in Long Island so as to not arouse suspicion, but eventually he was caught as the test administrators noticed he was showing up a lot over two years with different names. The following year, the SAT registration required a photo to be added. Now a student must show up not just with a photo ID, but the registration ticket has a photo too, which is to be matched at the test administration sight. Now to change answers and so forth, Mr. Singer did not just need someone who could actually get those answers, he needed the cooperation of the school administering the test. The school had to let Mr. Singer’s cheater come in and literally change the bubble sheet before the school submitted it to the College Board for scanning and scoring. So, this now involves a lot of people. It is pretty astonishing the level of people who really wanted quick cash so much so that they would forgo morality. But it happened.
What to do? Well, be alerted to credible college counselors. Ask questions. Private college counselors are not charlatans out to take money. We provide a very valuable service, especially to parents who have not gone through the American college process themselves. We also provide hands on guidance, which many college or guidance counselors in the secondary schools just cannot do. High school guidance counselors often have 20 or more students per grade to attend to, and the counselors often cannot stop everything to answer all the questions that arise when trying to complete all the requirements to be competitive in the college pool for one or two needy students.
Also, many of my students need help. They need help with organization. They need help with clarification and editing. They need emotional reassurance. But be a smart consumer. If you are paying $900-$1200 hour for SAT prep, don’t you think this is a tad ridiculous? Seriously. There are no guarantees, unless you are cheating and paying someone to cheat. If you are told your child will be guaranteed admittance to an elite college by a college counselor, you are being lied to, as there is no such thing. If you are told your child will definitely get in for 6 Million, you are being played. Your child might get in, if there is a lot of collusion and bribery, but you got played and your child did not earn anything. You took away your child’s ability to earn and succeed. Think about that for a moment. Helping your child because you have the ability to hire support is truly a great thing to be able to do, but taking away your child’s ability to grow up and earn independence is theft.
If you want reliable, realistic, supportive, caring, and professional support for your child’s college process, contact me. Now is the season to get the program going for the Class of 2025. Happy to help, in fact, it is what I love to do and have successfully done for the past 25 years.