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What Can We Learn From The Varsity Blues College Recruiting Scandal?

Now streaming on Netflix, Varsity Blues is a dark spot on the recruiting industry. How parents can learn from others' mistakes.

What Can We Learn From The Varsity Blues College Recruiting Scandal?

At first, I had no intention to watch Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. I felt repulsed by the idea that an industry that I have learned to love could be so corrupt and could be bent so easily to favor those that are already starting the race a mile ahead of the rest. 


The tormenting film, now streaming on Netflix, focuses mainly on Rick Singer, and his transition from a Sacramento-based college recruiter to a “mastermind” of a multimillion scheme that had him plead guilty to facilitating college admission for children in more than 750 families.


Singer’s best skill was very simple. Exploiting the fear of the 1%. In selling 101 they teach you that you need to find the customer's fear and press upon it. Singer's case was capitalizing on this fear. He knew how to play with the wealthy and not just take money from them but to even turn the process around to save himself from getting into jail. That is some poetic justice for the less fortunate but it does not mean, as I mentioned before, that Singer’s is a Robin Hood archetype. 


Analyzing the parents does bring some attention to the largest issue. Singer is not the problem. As stated by the end of the film, the parents and their attention-seeking cry for help is the issue. Every one of them was looking at college admissions as a bragging rights topic for their country club conversations. When their children were younger they bragged about the Gulfstream, now they go through the college admission process and they brag about the acceptance rate and how to beat the system. 


Admission has turned into a business that goes beyond education itself. The name of the school tends to be the carrying factor at the upper level. But even as we blame the system and cheaters, the reality is that parents need to start by looking in a mirror and blaming themselves.  


While helicopter parents are a very popular term, this documentary may make bulldozing parents an even more famous label. The term is defined as parents that will plow over obstacles to clear the way for their children. Taking the challenge away and not allowing kids from fighting on their own has been proven as an incorrect approach. Varsity Blues is just another stripe on the tiger. 


As private college counselors at USP, we see the incorrect approach to college recruitment every day. If you were to ask one hundred prospective USP students what their dream school was, the answer would seem repetitive. USC, Miami, Stanford, Harvard, UCLA. At the most, a hundred students would mention less than fifteen schools. 


The USP process is very simple. We do not focus on the name of a school. There is not a single school search done by name. We need to first understand our clients as a person. What do our students really want (not their parents)? In what type of environment will they be happy and have the best chance to succeed? Where will they manage their academics best with their athletic demands? What type of culture and surroundings will they be most comfortable with?  These are only a few of the many questions that need to be answered when building an ideal college list.


By analyzing what you want, rather than a name, we are debunking the argument of the school name search. Every single student is different and with thousands of universities and colleges to choose from, not everyone needs to graduate from the same schools. 


Success is defined by hard work. A school name on the degree does not define the outcome of your child’s life. We need to focus more on happiness and ask our children what they want than obsessing over the Instagram post-worthy acceptance letter. The day that the mindset changes, the Singer’s of college counseling will not have a place in the industry. 


I just hope one day, when googling Varsity Blues, the only search you find is that of my favorite football movie of all time.

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