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Rick Singer was recently sentenced to prison time for a long-running scheme in which he made millions by helping rich parents buy admission to elite colleges. The FBI busted Singer, and dozens of parents, for bribing coaches, fabricating applications, and the like.
A cynic might suggest that Singer’s real mistake was less his conduct than the failure to give campus officials their cut of the loot. After all, Singer, whose sentencing closed out the FBI’s colorfully named “Varsity Blues” investigation, didn’t do anything very different from what elite college presidents do every day.
Indeed, at elite colleges, the wealthiest applicants routinely purchase what’s best understood as an admissions fast pass that includes individualized attention from high-ranking officials, a de facto appeals process should their application be denied on the merits, and the possibility that coaches and administrators will cut corners as needed.
This donations-for-seats racket is no secret. Indeed, the purported guardians of merit, opportunity, and equity at selective universities are laughably open about the fact that donors are buying special consideration. As former Yale president Richard Levin conceded, “We do advise the admissions office about applications coming from the children or grandchildren of significant