Amidst the U.S. College Scandal, Did I Help My Daughter Get Into School?

school admissions scandal

I can’t help but wonder if, years ago, I inadvertently helped my daughter get into private school, or at least gave her a leg up over other just as deserving students. I know school is out for summer, but I’m still obsessing over what has been dubbed the largest college admission scandal in the history of the United States, where former Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to hire someone to correct SAT answers for her daughter. She pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal.

Some parents in “the sweeping admissions case” have been accused of having their children fake disabilities to get approved for extra test time to facilitate cheating. Even worse, actress Lori Laughlin and her fashion designer husband, Massimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 (!) to fraudster Rick Singer, to get their daughters to be “classified as athletic recruits” for the crew team, to get them accepted into the University of Southern California, despite the fact that neither of them rowed crew .

Still, they are pleading not guilty. According to this article, an insider shared, “Lori really believes she isn’t guilty and that any parent would have done the same thing that she did if they were in that position.” Other wealthy parents who have been charged, totalling around 50, include prominent attorneys, CEOs, and the owner of a vineyard.

Yes, it’s hard to feel empathy for the wealthy, isn’t it? Maybe Laughlin and her husband are just in denial, and, yes, while most parents obviously want what’s best for our children, I’m pretty positive that most of us with common sense would not bribe to the tune of a half a million dollars to get their children into a college or go along with a total scam to get their children accepted into a college.

Looking back, just before my daughter was accepted to one of the city’s private schools, where she has been for the last eight years, I’m now wondering if I somehow gave her a little leg up into getting in. To be truthful, the thought now kind of turns my stomach. No, I did not give the school any money. No, I did not have someone skewer her grades. No, I did not tell the school that my daughter was a genius tennis player, even though she had, at that point, never picked up a tennis racket. But I did give them something.

A little background on how private schools operate when it comes to admissions. When my now 15-year-old was going into grade three, her father and I applied to the private school we wanted her to attend, a full year ahead of time. There was a process that didn’t just include sending the private school her transcripts from her previous school. First, there was a tour of the school her father and I had to take. Then, her father and I were interviewed alone, with an admissions officer. Then my daughter, Rowan, who was still about 7 years old at the time, had to be interviewed alone. But that’s not all.

My daughter then had to go back to the private school a second time, where she was placed in a room with a number of other children, and they were given a task to create a chair, made with only art supplies, as they were being watched and studied, to see how well my daughter got along with other potential students (and maybe to see how she managed to make a chair out of toilet paper rolls.)

Here’s the thing about private school admission. Not everyone gets in. You could be the wealthiest and have the most prominent last name in the city, and still, your child may not get in. Why? Because, candidly, everyone who applies to a private school, can afford the $35,000 a year to pay to have their child attend. But that doesn’t mean that all parents don’t feel entitled and that their kid should get in, based on who they know.

For example, one wealthy couple I know tried three times to get their daughter into this private school. They sent the school letters of recommendations for their daughter, from prominent people in the city, including one from the Premier of Ontario. Why didn’t their daughter get in? Because her parents were too lazy or were too entitled, to go through the admission process. They truly believed their kid could get in, without following the process, and without meeting the admissions officer. Again, it’s hard to feel empathy for entitled wealthy parents, isn’t it?

So why am I looking back, wondering if I had given my daughter a leg up? There are two reasons. First, which I do not feel guilty about, but maybe should, there are people you can hire to talk with before your kid goes for their interview, usually those who used to work in private school environments and are retired, to find out what kind of questions the school will most likely ask your children in their interview.

Yes, you have to pay for this service, but it’s totally above board, not because a lot of parents do this, but because it’s a service. And, yes, I did learn and then give my daughter tips on how to answer the questions they would most likely ask her. Was this wrong? When my daughter came out of her interview, I learned that she sang Happy Birthday in Mandarin to the admission officer, which, of course took me by surprise. I did not see that coming, but I could tell the admission officer was impressed.

Plus, my daughter’s grades and the comments from her previous teachers on her transcript were stellar, so, along with managing to ace her interview, build a chair out of toilet paper, and, also possibly and honestly, the fact that her father is a lawyer and I’m a writer (rational brain plus a creative brain) may have “impressed” – although I’m not sure that’s the right word – the school. But there’s more…

At exactly the same time her father and I went into the school to be interviewed, my children’s book that I co-wrote with Erica Ehm, had just been released. I thought it would be a nice gesture to bring the admissions officer a book for their amazing library (which I saw on the tour.) I did really mean it as a nice gesture and, more importantly, as an author, of course I wanted my book in as many libraries as possible. So did I inadvertently sort of bribe the school? I sure hope not. I’m confident that my daughter would have and did get in on her own merits. Yet, for some reason, this $22 gift of a children’s book, looking back, kind of makes me wonder if I subconsciously hoped that would help her chances.

Then there’s the donation factor at private schools, which is of course, totally above board. I absolutely love when my daughter’s private school sends out the booklet on the donors and how much they gave the school. It’s such a juicy read! Sure, her father and I donated five thousand dollars for every year she’s been there. Were we doing it because we like the school? Or do we subconsciously think the school will treat her better? The answer is, no, the school has not, and will not treat her better, especially when some of the parents have donated a million dollars to have their names plastered in huge letters above the theatre or on other walls in the school. We donate, honestly, because our daughter loves her school.

But of course I love looking at the numerous names who manage to donate a MILLION dollars every year to the school. Are they doing it because they like the school and want to make it the best as it can be? Are they donating simply because they like seeing their last names featured so prominently? Or is a part of them hoping that the school, the teachers, the guidance counsellors, will treat their children better, give them better marks, or greater chances to get leads in school plays, for example? My guess is that it’s a mixture of all three.

While I don’t know anyone who has bribed their way into private school, I do often wonder if the children of these uber-wealthy parents, with their names splashed across huge walls, get better treatment. How can you not wonder that? The answer, I hope, is a resounding NO! But who really knows? What I do know is that, yes, we all want our children to do well and succeed. But not by doing something so totally shady, as the 50 parents who, in total, spent $25 million in bribes to coaches, test-cheaters and others to get their children into some of the American’s top universities.

I keep thinking about giving them that children’s book, oh so long ago, and can’t help but wonder if I had done something shady or wrong. But the truth is, along with the fact my daughter could get in on her own merits, I really did just want my book in their library. As for donations, which is above board and not bribery, let’s hope that every single student, no matter how much their parents have donated, is treated equally.

Lori Laughlin may believe “any parent would have done the same thing if they were in that position,” but I have to totally disagree. She was in on an extremely shady scheme, knowingly, and was caught. Does she deserve jail time? Well, in my humble opinion, probably. I do know, however, if she can pony up that amount of money, she could certainly pony the same amount of money to start a scholarship for those students who deserve to get into these universities, but can’t afford it.

As for me giving the school a children’s book? Well, it does now sort of haunt me, although I believe my intentions were pure. And I believe my daughter gained admission to her school, on her own merit, not because her mother, admittedly, was doing some self-promotion.


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