Our Roles as Educators and Parents in the Wake of the College Admissions Scandal

As both educators and parents, we are devastated and saddened by the current college admissions scandal. The news has understandably incited fear, confusion, and indignation among parents, students and professionals in the admission field. We are writing here to address each of these concerns.

First and foremost on our minds is the well being of your children, our students. While it may seem that an already broken system that is far from a meritocracy is only worsening, we are here to tell you to hold onto your hope and optimism about your own child’s unique journey. The college planning process is just that — it is a process; it is not an end-game that compromises the unique strengths and qualities of each student in the name of brand chasing. Yes, there is a “game” to college planning, but on the whole, if we keep our moral compass pointed in the right direction, college planning is about discovering each student’s individual strengths, value, hopes and dreams and holding onto them as the beacon that guides us toward best fit.

While these recent exploitations and corruptions may lead many to utter cynicism about higher education, we continue to believe deeply in the role of education in the development of each person’s full potential to live a life of meaning and purpose, to find career satisfaction and success and to become part of an ethical citizenry of the world. The response of those who share our moral outrage to this scandal has rightly been to invoke the term “best fit” to separate the charlatans who have abused the system from the majority of ethical college counselors and admission professionals out there.

For us, best fit is a deeply held value that informs all of our work with our students. It is not a marketing slogan and it is not a method to try to manage expectations around college placement outcomes. Best fit simply means engaging in a relationship with our young people that affirms their innate worth in the world, that helps them dig out and reflect on their own unique strengths and their potential contributions to a field to which they aspire, a community they enter, and a world that needs both good and talented people. We relish this work with your children; it’s what inspires educators to do what they do best and that is to dig into the adolescent soul and mind to help the young person to discover his or her best self and to celebrate that self alongside that young person. The result of that work is the alignment with the right programming and culture of a college. And, yes, it takes the technical knowledge of college admission in order to optimize outcomes on behalf of a student. That strategy is just as much a part of what we do, but it never takes over, buries or potentially hurts the young person in front of us like this recent scandal has done to so many, some complicit and so many unwitting victims.

There are so many levels of victims in this recent scandal. Each time a wealthy and privileged parent paid the corrupt agent to bribe college coaches and administrators to buy an undeserved spot at an elite college, a truly capable candidate (or truly qualified student-athlete) got unfairly bumped out. The football player who stole a spot at USC even though he never played a down of football in his life took away an admit from a capable candidate who faithfully studied for and aced rigorous courses, worked a summer job, composed an authentic essay, and nailed the ACT. And the soccer player who grabbed a coveted acceptance from the fraudulent Yale soccer coach pushed to the waitlist an honest, deserving student-athlete. Meanwhile, the test taking mercenaries who aced the ACT in front of bribed test proctors unjustly overshadowed the 17-year-old who diligently took practice tests and flipped through index cards of obscure vocab words over the summer to earn an honest score.

These purchased admits also undermined the colluding parents’ own children, depriving their children of the rite of passage which is the college process. The parental cheating sends a pair of pathetic messages to their children: You’re not good enough to get in on your own, and we’re going to preempt your growth and purchase your opportunities for you. It goes without saying that the parent-fraud failed to teach their children the value of hard work or the ethics that should guide all of their decisions, all of which is hardly comforting when we consider the power and money that will be wielded by this next generation of elites.

At McMillan Education, we understand and respect each child’s journey through adolescence. Our decades of experience as teachers, coaches, dorm parents, school administrators and college counselors inform our practices of engaging and empowering the teenager in this critical and vulnerable developmental stage. We know students deserve to be guided to the extent that they can lead the process. As my colleague Amy Christie points out in her recent blog, best fit trumps prestige. It’s what our children deserve and, ultimately we know from research and experience, it is what will make them happy.

For the record, the agent involved has no connection to the professional associations where we, and our colleagues in McMillan Education, have trained and helped train others in the industry: The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). This rogue charlatan fed on parents’ fear and wealth, corrupted coaches, and hurt children.

It’s also clear not everyone at Yale and Stanford and the other universities should be condemned. But there is a clear correlation between coaches taking bribes to get unworthy candidates admitted via their almighty “list” and the ongoing, disheartening but all-too-real revelations about corruption in NCAA sports. Indeed, “student-athletes” allow basketball coaches to make millions off sneaker contracts, football coaches to earn eight figures salaries as the highest paid state employees, and networks to reap windfalls in the tens of millions from the Final Four basketball tournament and the College Football Playoff. While most of our McMillan Education athletes are not playing at the most corrupt NCAA universities and colleges, our entire athletic recruiting process is designed to protect students from the rampant narrow self-interest of coaches and other power brokers in the recruiting process. We strongly advise against a recruiting process that is run by coaches only because teams and relationships are the first priority, not your child. For us, your child’s well being is always our first priority.

In the wake of these scandals, what’s our role as educators and parents?

  • As college counselors, we at McMillan Education reaffirm our commitment to the core values you see hanging from our office walls: We dedicate our work to the betterment of the whole child; We work with families to find the very best for each student.
  • As professionals in the industry, we will continue to practice another of our core values: To serve as industry leaders, including training counselors entering the independent consultant world the importance of ethical practices.
  • As parents, we commit ourselves to affirming our children’s innate strengths and gifts, and allowing them to succeed and struggle independently, with appropriate parental guidance and support.
  • As parents and educators, this is an opportunity to collectively respond to our students’/your children’s shock by reassuring them that, while corruption exists and there are certainly injustices built into the college process, their hard work and strong values WILL pay off in a far greater gain — a happy and meaningful college experience and beyond!

Thank you to those of you who have reached out via email and text and phone to pass along the news and express your concern. As you may know, we always take our spring vacation right after March 10, since that’s when we share the private school admissions decisions with the families we have been working with, often for a year or more. That’s another wonderful day of the realization of educational best fits. So yesterday when we landed in our vacation spot, we turned on our phones and they exploded. One mom sent a picture of Felicity Huffman with an OMG! We thought she had sent it to the wrong people. Then the sad reality hit.

We certainly welcome a conversation with you on this topic. Certainly fallout will ensue: coaches will be fired, and celebrities indicted. Write us directly or contact Ann at [email protected] or 617 536 4319.


Don & Sarah McMillan

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