The massive cheating and bribing scam that got 33 parents indicted Tuesday is an extreme example of the use of wealth to gain access to elite schools, but wealth has always conferred advantages in the college-admissions process, in plenty of legal —if unfair — ways. Like making large donations to the schools or offering to fund a building on campus.
The pressure to get into elite institutions is high, and the main gatekeepers to these competitive universities are admissions officers. They weigh a lot of factors in casting each freshman class, but wealth certainly factors in.
Sara Harberson, a former associate dean of admissions for University of Pennsylvania and former Dean of Admissions at Franklin and Marshall College, told us, "What would always helps students if they were tagged and their family had a lot of financial resources. You were really looking at seven-figure donations, eight-figure donations. But sometimes six figures, plus a connection with someone on the board, was even more powerful.”
VICE News spoke to Harberson and four other admissions experts to find out what it’s really like behind a process that remains closed to most people.
This segment originally aired March 12, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.