Growing up in central Florida, I was a private school kid. My parents weren’t very wealthy, but I’d begged them to let me transfer to a school with better facilities—after trying the advanced programs of the advanced programs in the public school system, I still felt like I was learning nothing. I was fortunate enough to have parents who cared deeply about education, spending nearly my entire young life, third grade through high school, at an elite private school with a pricey yearly tuition. There was no acceptance test, no demanding mandatory routine, no barrier to entry into this school, but it cost $20,000 a year to attend.
Some of my classmates were smart, but many of my peers were quite average. With the exception of a few kids like me, who came from middle-class families exhausted by an insufficient public school system, most of the student body was quite wealthy. They came from families with influence and power, with parents on the school board, many of them alumni of Ivy League or other big-name universities (sound familiar?) and owners of multi-million dollar estates. I watched many of those kids go through high school getting C’s and B’s (thanks to the school’s grossly inflated grading system), clocking in a couple hours of “community service,” working internships at law firms owned by their parents and getting elected to the dozens of pointless student government positions the school had set up. I watched these kids, smug and mediocre, grow up from elementary to high school with no real ambitions or plans. Pampered with teachers afraid to criticize their poorly written essays, they bragged about positions they’d received at big-name firms where their parents held a tenth of the stock, and drove off campus in Teslas for our 45 minute long lunch break to buy sushi.
Then I watched them get admitted to Harvard and Yale.
I’m not saying that all of those kids were untalented or stupid. Some of them, in fact, were incredibly intelligent and interesting people. But of the 127 graduates of my class, 21—about 16 percent—shipped off to the Ivy League. 84 more went to colleges rated in the top 100 globally. Only one student declined to attend anywhere.
If you have any experience with college admissions in America, either you are painfully aware of the revoltingly corrupt and decrepit institution it is, or you are benefitting from the corruption. Most of the time, it isn’t anything like the “scandal” that’s popped up of outright bribes; it’s the “connections” between elite prep school boards, influential socialites and college admissions. It’s legacy programs, it’s sports scholarships and it’s patronizing diversity initiatives. There isn’t a single aspect of the modern admissions process that isn’t rife with corruption and exploitation, and it all boils down to the same thing: if you have the connections or the looks, getting into Brown—or Colgate—is like sliding down a fire pole. For those who don’t, it’s like clawing your way through barbed wire and mud till your arms are bloody and broken, just for the chance to stand alongside kids who park Porsches at the same fraternity that their dad joined 20 years ago.
Don’t think for a second that just because Colgate wasn’t implicated in the recent scandal that it isn’t just as biased and unfair as any other elite university. The hill has one of the highest concentrations of the ultra-wealthy in the nation, and that’s not a coincidence. Our parents should have demanded admissions reform decades ago, but they left it up to us to fix a broken system. To me, that’s the worst part of this entire, awful affair. What does it matter if we protest now? The only thing we’d achieve by successfully reforming Colgate, or any other elite university’s corrupt admissions to be fair, just and meritocratic, would be pruning away the “elite” monetary backers and thus stripping the university of its own “elite” status.
Contact Max Goldenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.