Celeb kids aren’t the only ones cheating their way into college…

Celeb kids aren't the only ones cheating their way into college...
Many grow up believing all they have to do to get into college and pass is pay others to do the hard work for them. Source: AFP/Frederic J Brown

If you thought getting into a top college is tough for middle-ability kids of American celebrities, imagine how it is for Asian kids who can’t speak English but face even higher pressures to do well in life. If you can understand why desperate Hollywood A-listers are willing to cheat their way through admissions, it’s easy to recognise the market for people out there waiting to try their luck.

And what a lucrative globl business it is.

In a recent VICE feature, a ghostwriter details how he helps international candidates game the college admissions system. It appears to be an entire package of services; from filling out application forms to writing essays on behalf of the candidate and sometimes even their parents. The service extends to boarding schools, too. At times, it even continues after these candidates have been admitted, assisting them with the workload which they, unsurprisingly, find themselves unable to cope with.

“I’m an academic mercenary,” Anthony (not his real name) told VICE. Anthony, who works at a Seoul-based college application consulting firm, had graduated from a top US school himself and even worked as a adjunct at several American schools.

Today, however, he helps his mostly Chinese and Korean clients replicate his academic success – save for the doing it ethically part. While helping with application forms isn’t exactly criminal and is actually quite the norm in these East Asian countries, it’s the expensive ‘deluxe’ services that are obviously fraudulent. As Anthony told VICE, these services cover a wide range:

“My first assignment was to take an entire online college course for a kid. I finished a master’s thesis for a student at [a top three Korean university], I’ve written philosophy papers for students at [a top 10 American university]…And I hate these kids. And their parents.”

“They’re invariably the worst sort of people — rich, awful, entitled.”

He describes a clientele that is hard to empathise with. Many are scions of wealthy families who are lazy, dull, lacking curiosity and do not have interests “beyond plastic surgery or League of Legends“. When these clients get into their Ivy Leagues or other top colleges, they predictably turn to Anthony again when they can’t keep up with their assignments. And so the cycle of paying Anthony and his firm continues.

Mo Panahi, an ESL teacher in Korea and China for the past five years, described similar experiences at a private American academy in Xiamen, China.

“What surprised me is that even 13- or 14-year-old kids already know their parents can buy their way into American schools,” says Panahi.

“Many times I’d tell a student to stop sleeping, to pay attention to the test prep, and they’d say something like, ‘It doesn’t matter, teacher. My father is rich and I will be handed down a company. He can afford to get me into any school I want in America, Canada, or Australia, I don’t care about English.’”

Perhaps this is how you groom a “Jared Kushner”, Anthony believes, referencing undeserving people who find themselves in powerful positions. Getting into these elite institutions means the opportunity to network with powerful or soon-to-be influential people. It doesn’t matter if these students have zero interest in their application, their course, internships and so forth. It’s the connections that matter, not the merit.

Colleges, with their increasingly unaffordable tuition fees, favour the privileged in admissions, keeping these students firmly within their privileged circles. Social mobility is no longer a by-product of college today. In 38 US colleges – including five Ivy League schools – students from the top one percent of the income scale outnumber those from the bottom 60 percent, according to a 2017 study.

We live in an era where higher education is commercialised – why are people still surprised by the admission scandal findings or the things Anthony and Toor are saying?

“It’s how people at the top maintain power,” says Anthony. “This is how you get incompetent people in powerful positions. This is how you get a Jared Kushner.”

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