How Houston's rich kids game the system (Spoiler: with their parents' money)

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BBS commentators- Is there any country out there that gets university admissions right? In every example I’ve heard of, the process is dominated by the rich and well connected.


Canada doesn’t seem to be too bad, from my experience.


Is there any difference between hiring strategic help and “gaming the system?” If a rich defendant hires a lawyer a poor one can’t afford, are they “gaming the system?” In my understanding, gaming the system is exploiting loopholes and flaws in the rules to get unfair advantage. It’s the sort of despicable behavior that should be, but probably can’t be outlawed.

Hiring a tutor doesn’t seem that bad to me, even if one is rich.


I’d bet Canada is better than the US or the UK, but we’re getting worse, and in this case being not-that-bad includes extremely poor enrollment of indigenous people.


There’s something very telling about this and it really speaks to much larger issue. I wouldn’t want to inflict real hardship on anyone but how do we give someone who, over their very short life, has only benefited from the status quo, a way to see what life is like for others?


I’m biased… but I think Canada gets it pretty good? I’ve worked at three post-secondary schools in the past 16 years (OMG so long!) and by and large it is performance based. At my current school there are two kinds of programs; grades-only and grades-plus. My program is grades-only, and it means what it says, we only look at GPA, period. If you don’t have the grades you don’t get in. (Admissions has high school rankings, they know what grades mean from one school to another) Grades-plus usually means a portfolio requirement (fashion/journalism/etc), or an audition (theatre/dance/etc).

AND… I talk to parents, a lot. A lot of parents call me, on behalf of their kids, all the damn time. This has changed drastically in the past 8 years. Hell its changed in the last 4 years. Previously I could count on one hand the number of parents I spoke to for the year. Now I get that many calls/emails a week. The increase is staggering and its only getting worse. And all of them are like this girls parents. Just trying to help. But they can’t. Because grades-only means grades-only. I’m sure Betty or Sawyer are great kids and did excellent community service and have lovely letters of recommendations, but if they don’t have the grades they don’t get in.

One thing I experienced this year that I hadn’t experience before; private guidance counsellors. So like the woman in the story, these are paid for by the parents to help them apply and get into school. Unfortunately in Canada, at least for the public universities, I don’t think it will help (and she didn’t help him get into our program).


I have a friend. He’s from an upper class family- well connected and all that. He was a good student (but not amazing), and was from as much a position of privilege as you could imagine.
He went and got the worst summer jobs ever. Like, back breaking physical labor in the dirt. He worked on mow-blow-go landscaping crews. Demo crews. Nasty, nasty stuff. And he did the work, and he didn’t complain, and he learned a ton from the experiences.
He’s a lot more wealthy than I am, these days- but he’s still one of the most reasonable and grounded people I’ve ever encountered.
I’m not trying to do the #notallrichkids thing. I guess there’s (maybe?) something different with kids from families that have come up blue collar? The lack of coddling? The emphasis that their kids should know hard work and understand (in a real and meaningful way) what that means?
I’m not rich. But I do ok, and my kids have lived pretty sheltered lives thus far (though, to be fair, they’re still pretty little). But when it’s time for them to get jobs, jobs they will get. They will not get plush internships, or cushy gigs at friends’ ventures- no. They’ll get shitty summer work, because it’s important to understand why, exactly, you might want to pursue a degree- what all the effort is for. Why it matters.
Sorry. Rant mode off.


I think the difference is whether you’re working against the intentions of the system.

The function of a tutor is to make sure that you learned the material well enough to be tested on it; that’s working towards a similar goal to the goal of the school.

The goal of a high-priced lawyer is to make sure that the system doesn’t convict an innocent person; that’s working towards a similar goal to the “justice” goal of the justice system.

The goal of hiring someone to write a paper for you telling fictional stories about how you had to work hard and endure hardship, and thus you deserve to go to this school, is expressly working against the goal of the hardship system, which is to admit students who couldn’t be in the top 10% of students at their school academically because of the hardship they were enduring.

There’s a huge difference between paying for someone to help you train you up to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and paying the organizers to let you take a faster runner’s place and run the marathon, despite not being able to run fast enough to qualify.


I could be wrong but I don’t think that is what she was doing. She mentions editing and re-writing, but that’s not cheating, I don’t think. College admissions is not a closed-book test.


Or, even, in the case of the article above, run the marathon for you.

There’s a line there, somewhere: the student needs to write the essay. They can be coached, they can be edited, they can be helped… but the idea, the story, the execution needs to be them. They have to perform the act- not someone else. And if the tudor is writing (or re-writing) the essay, that’s too far.
My understanding is that ghost written college essays have been a thing for years now. You can go ahead and buy a custom written essay using details of your life that you provide. It’s unethical, and it’s (I think at least in part) a show of the desperation that even the wealthy face to get into the right school.


This job—writing college essays for Abigail Fishers—was the only job I have ever been truly ashamed of, and I am so ashamed of it now that it hurts. I did it, too, for a particularly embarrassing reason: because it paid so well that I could keep my earning hours to a minimum, and for four months spend most of my time writing fiction so I could get into an MFA program.

It sounds to me that by “re-writing” she means that she took what they wrote, tossed most of it out, and re-wrote it from scratch.


The majority of undergrads I see have never held any job of any kind. And that is so shocking to me! My friends and I all had jobs all through high school, I started working at 15 because my Mom refused to buy me the Cyndi Lauper inspired clothes I wanted so I got a job so I could buy them myself! (True story, also #80sForever!)

I maintain that we need a gap year tradition. Go away for a year after highschool, get a job, work for a year. THEN come to university. It would benefit everyone and everything!


Not sure, since I know adults who think that unless they personally experience a particular hardship, the hardship others experience is because they’re too lazy/dumb/fat/etc and they deserve it. So just years on the planet aren’t enough and I don’t know how you imbue empathy.


It’s not gaming the system. Like those of us who earned our money through hard work, elbow grease and inheritance, the Undeserving Poor can hire the same people to write their words for them all goodly that I can.


My oldest is in WV on a church mission trip - repairing peoples homes (mostly trailers) and such. I’m hoping she comes back with a new found appreciation for what we have here in middle class suburbia. As a kid, I spent a lot of time with relatives in Mexico during the summer. These were middle class Mexicans – they had modest homes, and TVs, and beat up cars, and such – but even so poverty is everywhere there, and seeing that part of the world when I was 13 shaped me.

There’s no real substitute for actually seeing what life is like for others.

Edit: I wish the trip was non-denominational but she’s approaching adulthood now and if she wants to be involved in the church, she gets to be involved in the church. We could have much bigger problems on our hands.


Maybe not from scratch, but she certainly hints that she wrote whatever she thought needed to be in the essay to work, and took out whatever wouldn’t. So, yeah, probably re-wrote the bones of the essays, then glued some of the client’s real personal details back on the new structure.


I worked the same job (or, at the same company) from when I was 14 (and got my first working papers) until I was 26 (and was finishing grad school). Indeed, I only quit when I got my first serious salaried position.
It started as a job with lots of time spent taking out trash. It turned into a much more serious position as time went on. That time spent punching a clock was important for me as a person to develop, and I’m not sure of any good way to short-circuit that process. Maybe Outward Bound or something?
Shitty jobs are important, as they generate perspective. I’ve heard coddled kids talk about their jobs being “hard” and “difficult” without any real perspective of what that might be. Are you standing all day? Is it noisy? Hot? Are you picking up heavy things over and over? Is it dirty and gross?


Spot on. I wish I thought of this first - but you said it better than I would have anyway.