Forty-one years ago I graduated within one of the brightest classes in the history of my Central New Jersey public high school. 

As I read about yesterday’s unraveling news and Federal indictment around Rick Singer, Edge College and Career Network, the Key Worldwide Foundation, coaches who were bribed to endorse student athletes who were not athletes at all, test takers who were bribed to take proctored exams, and the parents who were willing to pay. I thought back to my own high school classmates and the parents who I knew.

Yesterday’s news is a slap to their faces, and mine.

Our valedictorian got into Harvard. She went on to become a practicing physician after earning her MD at the University of St. Andrews in the UK. Her mother was our high school’s choral director. Yes, mom was one of her teachers, and likely gave her an A-plus in class, but her daughter could really sing. She starred as Anna in our junior year production of ‘The King and I’ and wowed audiences through six performances.

Our salutatorian went on to Duke as an Angier Biddle Duke Scholar. He too, became a physician, after earning an MD and a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard. He is now the Director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan, and  has faculty appointments at the university’s medical school and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Our class also sent five more people to Duke, two to MIT, two to Bucknell, three to Boston University, and one each to Bryn Mawr, Case Western, Georgetown, UNC-Chapel Hill, Brandeis, USC, Penn, William and Mary, Cornell, Smith and Wesleyan.  I was one of probably two dozen who went to Rutgers; we were more than five percent of the high school class.

I had classes or extracurricular activities with all of these people. Not all were close friends. But I can comfortably state that they earned their admissions through their grades, test scores, essays and extracurricular achievements. None were the children of actors or ultra-wealthy business people who might have given a college some added incentive to admit their children. Probably none of their families hired a tutor to prep them for the SAT. 

The independent college admissions advising profession, which I am a part, did not exist as anything close to what it is today when I graduated from high school. It exists today not to “get students in” to a college that they might not be admitted without their help, but to aid them and their parents to make a well-informed decision. Families call on us when their school counselors are over-loaded and face competing obligations to their students, faculty and administration. Their parents might not have needed us when college admissions were less competitive decades ago. But they need our help now, to navigate a more varied set of academic and college choices as well as the media hype about rankings and selective admissions.

I prove my value to my clients by doing thorough research around their interests, musts and wants. You cannot outsource this to a college ranking, a computer algorithm or a Web site. An advisor and their client need to know that this student, a unique person, will be well prepared to succeed in that school’s unique academic program and setting. This student must also make a positive impression on admissions officers in their own unique voice. Sometimes s/he needs a person to discuss ideas, and push them to write the essays. College admissions officers want to consider students who rise to the challenge to take this responsibility. 

Richard Singer and his accomplices created a “side door” to help students gain admission to colleges where they would never make it in through the front door, as the brightest of my high school classmates did. They are not college admissions advisors. They are indicted criminals. The difference between a professional college admission advisor and these criminals cannot be defined in any measure shorter than the distance from the Earth into space.

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