How the "Varsity Blues" admissions scam punished deserving, hard working kids so that mediocre kids of the super-rich could prosper

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It’s a meritocracy where money is the “merit”, and being poor is a demerit.


But as Propublica points out, the process by which Grant was admitted to Georgetown is relatively benign compared to many of the other schemes engineered by Singer, whose top trick was putting forward the white, wealthy children of the families he worked for as poor, Latinx students, in order to steal places set aside for members of visible minorities and students whose families lacked money.

The scumbag also abused the aspects of the testing system meant to help students with genuine learning disabilities. He’d have the parents get fake diagnoses so their garden-variety dimwits would be able to take the tests under conditions that facilitated cheating.

Universities make no secret of the fact that giving them a couple million dollars for a new building or what-have-you prior to your mediocre kid’s application process will guarantee Dunderhead, Jr a place in the program of their choice.

A prominent example, also from ProPublica:

For anyone interested in the Varsity Blues scandal, the new “Gangster Capitalism” podcast chose it as the story for its first season.


In this month’s edition of a parenting magazine found in the waiting room of every Orange County gym class, dance class, etc. you take your toddler or elementary-aged kid to:


The untapped thing here along with displacement is also how wasted that degree usually is on the aristocrat kid. He/She is most likely going to score a job (if they ever have to work) via family connections. The degree is just some text attached to their name and a paper to hang on the wall in the corner suite.


There is a certain school of thought that holds that the entire reason for attending institutions of “higher learning” is exactly to make those kinds of lifetime social connections; Rendering that goal a “by all means necessary” thing.

Personally, I think that is dead wrong, but it’s been publicly argued as to why people need to go to college/university.

I prefer Mike Rowes take on higher education. I’ll leave looking that up as an exercise.

As much as I find this scandal disgusting on many levels, the narrative of this article doesn’t really hold up. How did one student sleazing into one school keep another out of every school to which he applied? Someone who plays “professional level” tennis who also has the academic credentials for Georgetown should have an excellent shot at a large number of prestigious private schools, not to mention many strong state universities with wonderful tennis programs

Cal Poly is also fine school where you can get an excellent education. I don’t know what their tennis program is like, but if it is not of high caliber I don’t think that someone who plays tennis at this level will have difficulty getting onto their varsity team, a suggestion of the article I find puzzling.

Also: I know FERPA doesn’t apply to reporters, but has this article really done the student any favors by discussing his situation non-anonymously?


As much as I find this scandal disgusting on many levels, the narrative of this article doesn’t really hold up. How did one student sleazing into one school keep another out of every school to which he applied?

The problem is that it’s not just one student. Did you see the articles about the other recent admissions court case, wherein 47% of white students admitted to Harvard were either legacy or some sort of athlete (not football, typical rich private school sports, like crew, squash, lacrosse, etc.). The true scandal is what is legal. If I donate $100 to my local NPR station, the receipt I get is for the amount of the donation, minus the value of anything they give me as a “gift”, like a tote bag. If I donate a million to Harvard, I can write off the entire donation, whether or not my name goes on a building (actually more like a classroom for a million) or my unqualified kid gets admitted. Just about every university has written (though secretive) rules for handling “large” gifts. I consider this nothing more than legalized tax free bribery. It’s also a fundamental reason why wealthy families get wealthier, they’re wired into a network that gives them a leg up attending elite colleges, meeting the right kinds of friends (many also admitted the same way) and their parents, who can in turn get them entry-level executive positions that they may otherwise be unqualified for.


you can bribe the coach to slide them through the athletes’ back door


This scam is America, ya’ll. To pretend otherwise is naive.


There are certainly serious inequities in our higher education system, including big-ticket donors and possibly legacy admissions, but this article and the varsity blues scandal are about neither of these.

For me this particular story, which is about how one wealthy white private-high-school-educated kid possibly edged out another for a slot at one school, doesn’t stand close scrutiny.


I agree. People that are really upset about the ‘Varsity Blues Scandal,’ apparently don’t get how Ivy League/Elite admissions work in general. ‘Donations’ are commonplace. With some exceptions, connections are basically required. The game is rigged. These people were just really stupid in the way they tried to rig it.

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The only way to be rid of this morass of corruption and cheating is to make the whole university application process much simpler and more transparent.

Eliminate legacy admissions entirely.
Get rid of athletic scholarships.
Remove the “institutional fit” questions and essays that are used to discriminate.

Instead, base the admissions entirely on academic merit, through independently administered, rigorous examinations, and enforce compliance with these standards by restricting federally backed loans and grants to institutions that comply with these standards.

With a mass clear out of these exceptions that have come to dominate the system, we’d see many more young people who should make it to these universities actually getting in.


I think things got a little confused. Understandably so, the article is long and jumps around. First, Cal Poly was Langevin’s (the actual tennis player) first choice. He got in, but not on the tennis team. H. Pockets III got into Georgetown via the tennis team and it isn’t clear that Langevin even applied there.

Here are some relevant snippets:

Adam could also have made some Division I teams. The U.S. Naval Academy, a Division I program, contacted him, but it requires a five-year service commitment, for which his peanut allergy could have disqualified him. After years of training, practice and sacrifice, Adam had no desire to be the best player on a lesser team.

Cal Poly coach Nick Carless told me that Adam is “at the Division I level. He’s pretty close to some of the lower guys on my team.” The difficulty, he said, was timing. Most college coaches sign up players a year in advance, so his roster was already set when he learned of Adam, he said. “Adam got in touch with me relatively late. It’s really bad timing for a really great kid who loves the sport, is passionate about it, and put in the hours.” Carless said that four of Cal Poly’s 12 players are foreigners, who increasingly compete with American players for roster spots in college sports like tennis. Overall, more than a third of Division I tennis players today are international students, reducing the roster spots available for U.S. players.

Even after being passed over, Adam didn’t give up. He enrolled at Cal Poly with a new plan. He would be more motivated than ever, practice harder than ever, take lessons from the coaches, play club tennis and dedicate himself to improving his game until a spot opened up and he would be worthy of joining the team. “The greatest feeling is proving someone wrong and being successful,” he said.

The Cal Poly coach, Carless, encouraged Adam to transfer to another university where he would make the tennis team. “I just kind of felt bad I didn’t have a spot for him,” Carless told me. “I said: ‘You can play. I see your work ethic, I see your love for the game. You could reach out to schools that are lower in the rankings or losing a lot of seniors.’” Adam considered transferring, but he stayed at Cal Poly and is glad he did. His life has expanded to include a girlfriend, a fraternity and chemistry research guided by a professor. He’s playing No. 1 singles on Cal Poly’s club team — and still trying to walk onto the varsity squad. For his 21st birthday, in June, his parents paid for a 90-minute off-season lesson with Carless.


Thanks for this. I shouldn’t have based my reaction on @doctorow’s interpretation of the article. I still don’t understand why the Cal Poly kid, as interviewed in the article, seems to be jealous of the the Georgetown kid. Cal Poly appears to have a more competitive tennis program, neither kid is actually playing varsity tennis, and I suspect – generalizing from our field – that the undergraduate degree in chem at Cal Poly is not worse than the one at Georgetown. (And, as you point out, he doesn’t seem to have been “aced out” by the Georgetown kid, despite the PP article’s clever headline.)

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I think that it is simply that the high school team’s dud got the tennis scholarship and the ace didn’t. It probably just felt wrong.

Honestly, I suspect that Langevin is probably better off not being on a varsity team. No one was suggesting that he should make a career of it and club sports are usually more true to the ideal of the student athlete. (STEM major and varsity at the same time is a tough proposition.)


Discussions of this scandal are incomplete without including the practice of admitting politicians’ unqualified kids.

Its a naked quid-pro-quo system of universities bribing public officials by bestowing undeserved admissions on their mediocre offspring.

If you’re going to yell “hey, look over there!”, the least you can do is provide a link or links to show that this issue (and I’m sure the kids of some politicians do get special treatment) is as pervasive as the one being discussed.

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This suggests that if they instead bring in mediocre athletes who fail to bring home the trophies (if they play at all), then the alumni will stop donating.

Questions arise: is there in fact evidence that alumni contributions are strongly tied to the success or failure of an academic institution’s athletics program? For that matter, is said success also strongly tied to the amount spent on said programs?

I for one would quite like to see athletics decoupled entirely from admissions, for there are surely countless gifted academics who have been denied admission in favor of those with some genetic predisposition for cardiovascular health.

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