A Scandal Fit for a Win-at-All-Costs Society

Joe Pinsker

March 13, 2019

On Tuesday, court documents alleging a major college-bribery scheme described some outlandish behavior on the part of wealthy parents looking to give their children an edge in the admissions process. Allegedly, the parents were open to falsifying learning disabilities, athletic accomplishments, and grades on their children’s behalf, as well as paying millions of dollars in bribes.

These strategies are, of course, extreme, and the government argues that they crossed a legal line. But they are manifestations of a common desperation, one shared by many law-abiding peers of these wealthy parents, to get their children into top-tier schools. The sometimes outrageous strategies alleged in court documents are an indication of the extreme pressure that many affluent parents feel to ensure that their kids go to a “good” school, which will lead to a “good” career, which will lead to, they hope, a good life.

In a way, these parents have correctly assessed the high stakes of attending a highly prestigious college. “When you apply for a job and you went to Bucknell, versus an applicant where everything else is the same and the kid went to Yale, my bet is on the kid from Yale every time out of 10,” says Brian Taylor, the managing director of Ivy Coach, an admissions consultancy in New York City with clients from around the world.