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Articles / Applying to College / A Changing Landscape in College Admissions

A Changing Landscape in College Admissions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 21, 2019
A Changing Landscape in College Admissions

I'm a Baby Boomer who went to college in the late 1960s. Things were crazy back then, with all the campus upheaval about the Vietnam War. You may remember Kent State and the tragic deaths there. Radical groups took over administration buildings. Drugs were commonplace and out in the open. It was a wild time, not on every campus, but on enough of them to inspire John Lennon to sing, “You say you want a revolution."

Things today aren't as openly violent, thankfully, although there have been incidents of assault based on Liberal versus Conservative ideals, such as this attack on the Berkeley campus. Today's “upheaval" is far more subtle, thanks to modern technology and increasing corruption in the area of admissions.

As far as technology goes, you may have seen this headline:

Hackers Broke Into Admissions Databases at 3 Colleges — and Then Offered to Sell Applicants Their Files

That's pretty amazing. Here are some highlights from Eric Hoover's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, in case you missed it:

On Thursday morning [March 7] a high-school senior in Texas received a strange email. “You are now presented with a unique opportunity," it said, “to purchase your entire admissions file."

The message appeared to have been sent by Grinnell College, to which the student had applied. But Grinnell hadn't sent the message; apparently, someone outside the Iowa campus had. Whoever it was claimed to have accessed the college's admissions database. As if to provide proof, the message included the applicant's correct date of birth.

The mysterious sender offered the student a chance to see his file, including comments by admissions officers, assigned ratings, interview notes, teacher recommendations, and a tentative decision. “Although the price tag is substantial," the message said, “this offer presents a unique opportunity to look at yourself from the inside of Grinnell Admissions office absolutely unfiltered." All he had to do was pay one Bitcoin, or about $3,900. ...

Wow. How many college applicants would love to get a look at what admissions readers were saying about them? I know that I would, but not for almost four thousand dollars! Grinnell wasn't the only college hacked.

Other applicants to Grinnell, as well as to Hamilton College, received the same message, though it wasn't immediately clear how many. In a tweet on Thursday, Grinnell said it had learned that “some" prospective students had received the offer. The college urged recipients not to respond to the message, and said that it had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. …

Earlier this week, Monica C. Inzer, Hamilton's vice president for enrollment management, sent an email to applicants explaining that the college had noticed “suspicious activity" in its admissions database. Though some components of students' applications might have been viewed by outsiders, she wrote, “data such as credit-card information and Social Security numbers are encrypted in our database, and there is no evidence that this information was obtained."...

the third institution that had been affected, [as] The Wall Street Journal reported was Oberlin College, in Ohio.

One has to wonder how many other colleges were hacked but said nothing. This type of hack, especially those who offer information or demand a ransom in Bitcoins, is getting to be quite common. In fact, just this past week, I've been accosted twice by “pretend" hackers who claimed to have the goods on me from incriminating information found on my hard drive, and wanted, in one case, $10,000 in Bitcoins sent to their account “immediately!" Ha!

Apparently, the college admissions file hacking didn't quite go as expected:

Not long after receiving the email, some Grinnell applicants received a follow-up message from Diane Evergreen [a bogus name] that also appeared to come from the college. The email explained that the initial offer had been greatly reduced: “We decided to lower the price to $60 worth of Bitcoins. For this price you will get admissions comments and your interview report (if any)."

But there was no price tag for the headache that the incident was sure to cause for affected colleges. ...

In this case, crime did not pay. Otherwise, why the massive “discount?"

Is A Perfect Storm Brewing in Admissions?

I think the phrase “perfect storm" may apply to more than a handful of colleges right now. First of all, imagine the contortions the hacked colleges have gone (or are going) through to assure the integrity of their admissions records, especially at this time of year, when decisions and financial aid packages are being rendered. The midnight oil is no doubt being burned in many administrative offices.

On top of that, we have The Great College Admissions Scandal of 2019. In my personal opinion, as I allude to in my “Great Scandal" article, I think there are other as-yet-unnamed colleges involved in the pay-to-play, “side-door" admissions case. As I mentioned above, I'm willing to bet that there are other schools whose admissions records have been hacked but have said nothing publicly.

If so, imagine being an admissions office that has been hacked and also suspects (or knows) that admissions hanky-panky has been going on. Yikes. Break out the Prilosec!

The reason I'm suspecting more schools to emerge from the great admissions scandal is because just yesterday we learned about the University of California - Los Angeles. The details of this admissions scandal are so outrageous that they're almost laughable. Here we have a young woman who was admitted to UCLA under completely false pretenses:

No soccer experience, but she still got a spot on elite UCLA team in college admissions scandal

There's plenty of incrimination to go around in this case:

Lauren Isackson's athletic credentials were dwarfed by those of her teammates. She joined the vaunted UCLA women's soccer program in 2017 alongside members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams — elite athletes accustomed to dominating the high school and club circuits, being the best in their leagues, their states, even their entire home countries.

Isackson's biography on the UCLA roster, meanwhile, lists her as an honorable mention all-league selection in 2014 for the West Bay Athletic League in Northern California.

But even that was false, according to federal prosecutors who have implicated Isackson's parents in a broad conspiracy to sneak the children of wealthy and powerful families into top-flight universities they may not have been qualified to attend.

Her fellow freshmen were heralded as the second-best recruiting class in the nation. It included the top recruit in the country, a member of the Canadian national team, and five players on the U.S. youth national team. A university press release quoted head coach Amanda Cromwell saying, “When all is said and done, this class may be one of the best."

You may be wondering how Lauren was able to score a spot on the UCLA team, which is one of the best in the nation. Well, cutting straight to the chase of this lengthy, detailed article:

...For passing their daughter off as a recruited athlete, Bruce and Davina Isackson gave [scandal ringleader, “Rick"] Singer's charity 2,150 shares of Facebook stock, valued at about $250,000, the FBI affidavit says....

Whoa. A quarter-million dollars in stock, which could have subsequently increased in value. In thinking about this situation, I have to wonder about Lauren's attitude as she entered UCLA under this cloud of lies. According to the student-athlete admissions committee, she was required to be on the team for a full year. Accordingly, she was listed as a “practice player" and never saw a minute of actual competition.

What was her role as a practice player? Imagine having to be on the same field with national- and international-caliber athletes! Did she have to participate in conditioning drills? Did she get her picture in team photographs? There's no way I could endure these circumstances. As you may already know, Lauren's athletic charade is not the only one in the scandal, but perhaps one of the most absurd.

Lawlessness and corruption are being revealed in higher education, and spreading faster than we may know. The thrust of my post today is about how college has changed, not only from the time I attended, decades ago, but also just from a single decade ago, or even more recently than that.

We know that there has always been a back door to college admissions, through the development office. But that's an open secret. There's no lying involved with that. It's the old saying, “Money talks and B.S. walks." No money = no back door. Take your chances with the front door. Lately, lying plus money could get you in the side door. At least that's the way it has been going on since as early as 2011, according to the FBI.

The internet has changed a lot of things other than college, but the privacy of college information has just been violated big time, and will continue to be violated, in my view, because of the sinister talents of hackers around the world bent on their personal financial enrichment. Locked file cabinets and heavily secured administrative offices did a good job of protecting student records back in my day. These days, the ether of cyberspace passes straight through brick walls and bolted doors and into secured drawers. Digital documents may be the most accessible kinds of records for the technologically gifted criminal mind.

Not All Colleges Are Bad

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all college changes are bad. Look at those luxury dorms and the architecturally and functionally stunning classrooms and lecture halls. Let's not forget need-based financial aid and the many large merit-based scholarships. Study-abroad programs are everywhere. The list goes on. Many, even most, of these aspects were available only in the fantasies of collegians during my era.

However, as society evolves, or, in the case of my post's thesis, devolves, we see example after example of the deceitfulness of the human heart. Higher education drama is merely one area that has come to dominate the news this past week, and promises to continue generating headlines for some time. Unfortunately, these are complex issues that can cast negative fallout on aspiring collegians and their families.

My advice: Work hard, be honest, and knock on the front door of your desired colleges. You'll be surprised at how many can open. Oh, and keep your passwords up to date!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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