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Some Perspective on the College Admissions Scandal

act news sat Mar 16, 2019

By now you've no doubt read all about the college admissions scandal that has rocked higher education and cast doubt on the fairness of the process that students go through to get admitted to the top U.S. universities.

And, like most people, you're probably outraged by it. You can't believe the depths that people will go to to cheat the system. And if you're in the middle of the admissions process yourself, you're wondering if the deck is stacked against you to the point where you even have a legitimate chance at competing for a spot at your dream school.

Those are perfectly normal reactions, and I get it. Believe me, my inbox has been full these past few days from students asking what it means for them, and whether they should be concerned that the same thing may be happening at the graduate level as well. 

(To that last point, Operation Varsity Blues only focused on uncovering schemes perpetrated at the undergraduate level. It's certainly possible that similar things could be happening at the graduate level, but there's no evidence to that effect as of yet. Three Harvard Business School MBAs and two Stanford MBAs were among the wealthy parents who allegedly paid to get their kids admitted to top schools, but again, not at the graduate level.)

So if you'll permit me, I'd like to share a fresh perspective, help us all take a big step back from the ledge, and recalibrate our thinking on the matter.

I think the obvious place to start is to remind you that life isn't fair. It never has been, and it never will be.

When you were young, your brother hit you first, you hit him back, and yet you were the one who got in trouble. You screamed "that's not fair!" because you didn't yet understand that sometimes things don't operate on a level playing field according to your ideas of right and wrong.

But you're an adult now, and the ways of the world are more clear to you.

There will always be athletes taking steroids to make faster gains.

There will always be politicians paying bribes or stealing e-mails or breaking the rules to get elected.

There will always be someone willing to sleep her way to the top in Hollywood.

There will always be companies that steal trade secrets or cook the books to inflate their stock price and steal market share.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Is it any wonder, then, that this type of deception would find its way into the college admissions process?

No, of course not. 

The real question is, how are you going to respond to it?

The way I see it, you have two options.

You can cry about it, you can talk about how unfair it is, and you can decide that you're simply not going to play a game where the deck seems to be stacked against you. That's totally within your rights. You can choose to only apply to schools that don't require the SAT or ACT (or GMAT / GRE / LSAT if you think someone is cheating on those tests, too), for example. And then you can continue to waste lots of time and mental energy stressing out about the unfair playing field and how you'll never be able to get ahead in a world where people cheat to win.


You can decide to work harder. Hire a tutor or take a prep class. Resolve to do things the right way and prove to the world -- and to yourself -- that integrity and character matter in this world, and that people who play by the rules can succeed. And you know what? The self-satisfaction you'll have when you achieve your goals and the peace you'll have when you look at yourself in the mirror and put your head on your pillow at night will make the extra effort worth it.

One of the mentors who has had the biggest impact in shaping my thinking about success and business, the late great Jim Rohn, put it this way:

"Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better."

Or as the legendary basketball coach Pat Riley said:

"When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you'll fight for the winners circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor."

I spent a lot of my early years getting worked up about things I had absolutely no control over. Now I know better. It doesn't mean it's easy to let things go when you feel like an injustice has been perpetrated against you. But ultimately, I've found life to be a lot more rewarding when I focus my time and attention on the things I can control -- things like working hard and taking care of my family and making a positive difference in my community and brightening the day of a stranger and overall trying to be a good person who makes the world a better place.

So take a second and allow yourself to be annoyed by this recent scandal.


Now take a deep breath. Let it out. And don't give it any more of your attention.

You're better than that. 


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