The college admissions process has long been sold as a system of merit: Do well in school, write a killer essay, score well on the SAT, and you’ll get in. Yet the recent nationwide scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, laid bare just how much money, instead of aptitude, often drives admissions at elite colleges.
In March of 2019, federal prosecutors charged 50 people with participating in a scheme to cheat the college admissions system at select colleges nationwide. The investigation into widespread cheating and corruption included Hollywood celebrities, Division I college coaches and wealthy parents who conspired to cheat the process. At its center was a college counselor named Rick Singer, who made millions by bribing coaches at major universities to admit his clients’ children as athletes for sports they often didn’t play, and by rigging SAT and ACT test scores.
In the new book Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit, & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal journalists Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz , who covered Operation Varsity Blues for the Wall Street Journal, give life to the largest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The interview was edited for brevity.
What did you find most interesting about Operation Varsity Blues?
Melissa Korn: I found the complexity of the scheme to be the most interesting part. This wasn’t just one corrupt guy helping a crooked parent. Each prong of the operation, both testing and bribery/fake athletes, involved multiple players