Up until a week and a half ago, the only reason I knew Olivia Jade was because of her YouTube channel, which I had been following off-and-on for a couple of years. When I heard she got into USC, I was a little bit confused; she had gone to a similar school to OVS, but she must’ve devoted hours upon hours of time into videos and sponsorship trips, so I imagined it would’ve been hard to keep up USC-worthy grades.
Then, I found out with the rest of the United States that Olivia Jade hadn’t really gotten into USC, she was falsely recruited for their crew team based on falsified, photoshopped pictures that her mother, Lori Loughlin, sent to the USC crew coach for an athletic scholarship.
And then I found out about the corrupt SAT proctors, college counselors writing essays for their clients, and wealthy parents making “generous” donations to ensure their children have a place at some of the most prestigious schools in the country.
This news hit extremely hard for me, as a high school senior who’s nervously checking my email every day waiting for the next college to accept or deny me. In the first semester this year, I was taking my last SAT and writing essays and supplements through the night. I spent hours and hours editing said essays, working tirelessly to cut out even a couple of words to fit the maximum in the Common Application.
And that’s just my experience with the college application process. My fellow seniors have put in years of playing the same sport to get a coveted spot on a team at the school of their choice, they’ve put in summers studying a single test, and have filled out countless forms and paperwork to get where they are today.
This scandal doesn’t just affect last year’s seniors or this year’s seniors, but every single year to come. This cracks open an underlying standard that colleges neglected to meet. OVS’s seniors are just some of the many that are shocked, hurt, and appalled by this scandal.
From the mouths of those who got in fairly, here’s how the Varsity Blues scandal feels.
When she started her college counseling process, Ivy Sun decided to use the help of a private counselor to guide her through.
The duties of her private counselor consist of editing essays, recommending different programs for Ivy to attend, and making sure that she puts her best-self forward on her applications.
Ivy knew that having a private counselor would be a great way to aid her through her college applications and she trusted that it would benefit her when decisions came out.
But, unlike the dozens of students involved in the varsity blues scandal, Ivy payed for a counselor, not for a guaranteed admittance.
When she first heard about the college admissions scandal, Ivy was disappointed to discover how easily people lose their morals just for money. She felt that by admitting some students into schools because of bribes, it takes that opportunity away from students who are truly deserving of the competitive spots.
Some of the big-name schools involved in the scandal, such as USC and UCLA, were the same ones that Ivy applied to. But even though she used a private counselor, Ivy still has faith in her applications, because she knows they were authentic, her counselor was trustworthy, and she had no intention of being deceptive.
“I did not question the quality of my college application… because I think I have prepared the best college application that I’m able to provide within my ability level,” Ivy said. “The fake athletic photos and fake SAT scores involved in the scandal are, after all, fake. I think the fact that my application is at least honest makes it good enough.”
The college admission scandal hit close to home for Conway Gilbreth.
Conway is on of the many students who needs and uses accommodations for standardized testing. Conway was diagnosed with OCD and ADHD at a young age, which has affected his test talking skills.
“My first PSAT I didn’t have that extra time, which upset me because I really wanted to try and get the National Merit Scholarship, but I didn’t have enough time to finish the test at all,” Conway said.
Applying for accommodations is a long and difficult task, which can take years and leave students who need the help without the help they need.
“It’s difficult. You have to have a really well-documented history of using time in class or else the College Board will say you don’t need it,” Conway explained.
After a long struggle for accommodations, Conway received time-and-a-quarter for his second time taking the SAT and time-and-a-half for his third SAT.
“It was really, really helpful,” Conway said. “I compared my scores from a test where I didn’t get extra time and a test where I did and I did twice as well.”
Conway’s accommodations were given fairly and received deservingly, unlike the students involved with the Varsity Blues case who abused this.
“That really, really sucks for people like me because there are so many of us that genuinely need it,” Conway said. “The scandal at USC puts a bad name on anybody using accommodations, which is really sad.”
Accommodations are given to make standardized testing a fair system for all students. The abuse of accommodations is devastating for students who need and use accommodations correctly, because it gives these students a huge disadvantage and takes away the fairness in standardized testing.
“The only thing that’s different between me, someone with extra time who needs it, and someone else who doesn’t is that I’m taking more time,” Conway said. “I’m doing the same thing. I just need more time to do it.”
For seniors like Nanako Tatewaki, a huge portion of their high school career is spent on fields and courts, practicing for hours every day to become a better athlete.
Nanako hopes to play sports in college. She doesn’t know whether she’ll get that opportunity. It will depend where she goes.
Since coming to OVS, she has played varsity volleyball, basketball, and track. Nanako hopes to play volleyball as an incoming freshman, as she has played for 12 years in total.
“I started playing when I was really young and I don’t know if [I will] be good enough to play in college, but I really want to try it,” Nanako said. “I want to see how it works.”
She’s worked hard to get to this point. She studies in a language that isn’t her native tongue, she studied hard for the SAT, she took rigorous courses, and committed to three different sports teams.
Her pay-off was being admitted to numerous colleges, not being turned down once. Her acceptances include schools like Chapman, San Diego State, and La Verne.
When she thinks of the scandal, it frustrates her.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Nanako said. “They paid a lot of money and got into good colleges without studying for the SAT or making a resume or anything else I did. I worked so hard and [the scandal is] not fair at all.”
Soham Kondle feels like he’s been building up to college almost since his first day of high school. Many students know Soham as an expert on the SAT, as he’s the founder of OVS’ own SAT leap.
Three summers, three days a week, four hours each class.
That’s the amount of time – in summer alone – he put into studying to ethically earn his 1510 SAT score — which he could’ve easily spent relaxing were put towards his future.
In light of the recent college scandal pertaining to a number of celebrities paying for SAT proctors to correct their kid’s answers, there are an even larger amount of unrecognized seniors across the country who put their sweat and tears into perfecting their SAT scores.
“I can’t think of an exact number of hours I put into the SAT,” Soham said. “But it was easily over 150 hours.”
Soham’s long process of preparing for the SAT started the summer before his sophomore year. Initially, his parents pushed the initiative on to Soham, even though he thought he was too young to be worrying about the SAT.
By the end of his sophomore year, however, he got more motivated. He started spending more hours studying, continued going to SAT bootcamps, and even started an SAT elective at school to study with other students.
His hard work paid off and showed itself through his scores after three tests. But it didn’t just prepare him to apply and get into college; the process helped him learn how to succeed there. It also gave him the ability to help his fellow classmates learn strategies to improve their own scores.
“Studying for this exam really built my character because college is all about being able to sit down and study for long periods of time,” Soham said. “Knowing that I could sit down for eight hours at a time just to study for an exam was not only a confidence booster, but taught me some very good techniques to studying and also teaching other people.”
Soham is just one of many seniors across the country anxiously waiting for their decision notifications to arrive. He’s still waiting to hear from the bigger schools, such as the UC’s like Berkeley, Irvine, and San Diego. Nonetheless, his SAT scores make him an extremely competitive applicant.
However, the fact still stands that wealthy parents are buying their kids into college and filling up the positions that could easily be given to more eligible applicants.
For Soham, it feels like an injustice. Not just for him, but for everyone like him.
“We’ve been working our way up to a near perfect score and that time is invaluable,” Soham said. “So, for someone to be able to just pay a certain amount of money and go take the test is an injustice for the people who actually study.”
These seniors are only a few of the many who’ve had to look at the corrupt college admissions system in a new light since the Varsity Blues scandal went public. While steps are being taken to punish those involved, there’s still a sense of apprehension and distrust that many feel as they open those long-awaited letters and e-mails. Now, instead of the decision being up to merit, some may question: Did someone pay to get in?
Reporting for this story was done by: Bella Slosberg, Avery Colborn, Kiana Carlisle, Jaclyn SerslandShare