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Wilsonville, West Linn and Lake Oswego's SWAG weighs in on debacle that roiled country this year

A scandal recently rocked the world of college admissions. Wealthy parents, some of them famous, are accused of paying for unfair advantages to get their kids into prestigious universities.

It is alleged that their children received help from college coaches on tests and essays, and some students were admitted to schools for sports they had never actually played. Roughly 30 parents have been indicted and now face prison sentences or fines for their actions.

We wanted to hear from our Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) on this topic, as many of them are in the midst of the college admissions process themselves. Below are their thoughts:

Scandal is symptom of broader inequalities PMG FILE PHOTO - Byun

When Aunt Becky from "Full House" gets arrested, you know that something is very, very wrong. That was my first thought when news of the college admissions scandal broke — how could these people cheat the system so easily?

The knowledge that "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin was just one of over 30 parents who abused their wealth and power in this way made me feel even worse.

Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the news likely knows the gist of the scandal — parents funneled money through a fake charity to surreptitiously bribe their children's way into college. According to a New York Times article published March 14 (shortly after the scandal broke), these wealthy parents shelled out between $15,000 and $75,000 just to get higher standardized test scores for their children. Others made payments to coaches at various universities to get their students accepted as athletes, even if they had never played the sport.

They took advantage of a system that was vulnerable to corruption, and the repercussions are plentiful.

The college admissions scandal is reflective of many broader issues in our country. Education is often touted as an area where everyone should have equal opportunity, which is why policies such as affirmative action are so controversial.

However, many of the same people who despise affirmative action are unbothered by legacy admissions and the ways in which the system favors the wealthy.

"Operation Varsity Blues," as the scandal is nicknamed, exposed an injustice that has taken place for years — if not generations. How can anyone expect the cycle of generational poverty and inequality to be broken if the wealthy can simply pay their way to the top?

Working to make yourself the best candidate for college admissions is exhausting. My fellow students and I are well aware that not everyone is going to get into their dream school. However, we want to apply knowing that everyone who does so has a fair shot.

— Sydney Byun

Wilsonville High School

Live and learnPMG FILE PHOTO - Mayes

The college cheating scandal has surely been an event that has taken the media by storm this spring.

Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are the two actresses who have been at the center of the scandal, but dozens of lesser-known parents have also participated in bribing the universities.

Lori Loughlin has famously bribed the University of Southern California to accept her daughter, Isabella Rose Giannulli, and later her younger daughter, Olivia Jade, as student athletes on the rowing team even though neither of them had ever participated in playing the sport.

Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, also wired about $200,000 per daughter to a supposed charity of the college consultant William Singer who has admitted to taking bribes to ensure that a child will get into selective universities.

Singer has admitted to this claim being true and orchestrated the admission of both Loughlin's and Huffman's daughters. Singer was also paid $15,000 by Huffman to ensure a high SAT score for her daughter. The whole scandal has truly been an atrocity, but at least now that the events have gone viral in the media, we can hopefully prevent acts like this from happening again.

— Ainsley Mayes

Wilsonville High School

Legal advantagesPMG FILE PHOTO - Alharithi

The only thing surprising about the news of Lori Loughlin's daughter Olivia Jade's illegal admission to USC is the word illegal. It's not a shock that "underqualified" celebrities or their children get into highly competitive schools by using their parents' resources or fame.

The reason people are more concerned with this topic is not because of the illegal ways people get into colleges — because in a materialistic society there will no doubt be some bribery and immoral practices — the bigger idea is that the world isn't recognizing the legal ways that "less qualified" students get into schools.

Everyone has their own advantage, big or small, but the issue that is concerning the nation is whether or not that advantage is hereditary and/or out of a student's control.

What we are forgetting is these advantages are not limited to just the wealthy or famous. It includes racial quotas, affirmative action, family legacy and other ways that ordinary people can get an edge up on their opponents.

The question that everyone must ask themselves before immediately criticizing celebrities and the wealthy is: Would they give up their special advantage?

My immediate reaction was a defense. It wasn't even a possibility that if I had an advantage, I would use it. It wasn't until my friend replied to my frets about getting into my dream school that changed my perspective.

He said, "Reem, even if you weren't qualified, you're a female daughter of two immigrants with two older brothers attending the university. You'll get in."

That's when I realized I could never give that up. I have no doubt in my mind that I am just as qualified as every other applicant, working just as hard and passionately in school, sports and extracurriculars, but I am not oblivious to the fact that those aren't the only factors playing into it. If I have something that will help me get into the college I deserve to get into, I wouldn't give it up.

I will know through my hard work and dedication that I deserved to get in, even if there were other boosts that were out of my control. That is why I don't lose sleep over issues such as Olivia Jade, because although she represents a minority of illegally admitted, "underqualified" students, the entire process of college admissions could be categorized as thousands of students using their own advantages to try to get in.

— Reem Alharithi

West Linn High School

Students who lost spots are real victims PMG FILE PHOTO - Lee

In my eyes, the college admissions scandal is a symptom of the larger issues surrounding the application process, one of which is its tendency to encapsulate individual merit in the name of a school.

Every student at Lake Oswego High School feels the pressure of college admissions, perhaps from the moment that student walks through the doors as a freshman.

The pressure to earn good grades, take more APs, squeeze more extracurriculars into one's busy schedule — all for the sake of a letter that begins with "Congratulations!" instead of with, "Thank you for applying to ______ University."

Throughout my four years at LOHS, I have seen and felt exhaustion, panic and disappointment as my peers and I fight our way toward the holy grail of college acceptance.

Somehow, we have become conditioned to think that college is the end-all and be-all — that an acceptance from a big-name school is the only suitable validation for one's prior 12 years of education.

Why have we come to believe that we must sacrifice happiness, health and even integrity for an acceptance letter?

Ironically, the pressure to be the "best" student does not mean the best students receive their just rewards. The United States claims to be a meritocracy, but the bribery and fraud that have occurred at the nation's top institutions clearly undermines that assumption.

What bothers me the most is not exactly that the children of the rich take advantage of such a loophole, but rather, that those children are taking the spots of students who truly deserve a place at an outstanding college.

Think of the girl living below the poverty line who works two jobs outside of school. Think of the boy who works himself to the bone studying for eight AP classes, when he isn't struggling beneath the heavy load of a dozen extracurriculars.

To use money in order to circumvent such dedication and hard work is a sign of ultimate disrespect toward the values we hold dear. Even the long-accepted policy of legacy admissions is, in my opinion, inherently unjust, for it works to keep out those students whose parents were not fortunate enough to attend an elite institution.

I am not condoning the culture that demands we dedicate our teenage years to getting into college; I strongly believe that focus needs to shift as well. Yet, in the meantime, let us ensure that those who do labor ceaselessly to prove their worth in high school are not cheated out of their goals by a $100,000 check and a doctored crew picture.

— Elena Lee

Lake Oswego High School

Reform the processPMG FILE PHOTO - DeVine

I was not surprised when I heard about the college admissions scandal. In a SWAG meeting recently, everyone was discussing ways to get into college.

Having a great SAT or ACT score, college essay, teacher recommendation letter: It seems mindless. How can whether or not a student is accepted into college be based on one test score or letter?

Sure, the student also has to have good grades or be on a sports team, but college admissions still seems superficial and delicate. The system can be easily manipulated. The system has been fragmented. How can it be solved?

The college admission process needs to be more complicated. College admission officers need to look more into the history of students before accepting them. They need to research how students are doing in high school, what students' extracurricular activities are, and whether or not those accomplishments agree with the college.

Not only that, college admission officers need to have stricter guidelines when accepting students. After watching VICE News' "How Broken the College Admissions Process Is," which came out March 13, college admission officers seem to have too much control over students being accepted into college.

Instead of choosing students solely based on college requirements, the officers also chose them based on their ideas of what a student should be, making the college admission process more unfair. Moreover, college admission officers need to explore students' performances in and outside of school before accepting them.

The college admission process will then not be solv-

ed, but at least more reasonable.

— Lily Devine

Lake Oswego High School

Ensure honest practicesPMG FILE PHOTO - Spurr

While the college admissions scandal brought to light inexcusable corruption and tainted some celebrities' profiles, its legacy will ultimately benefit future applicants.

As a high school junior about to embark on the college application process, I find it reassuring to know that colleges will now keep a keen eye on both their review processes as well as the prospective students who pass through their offices. But I also know that the applications process needs reform, even within our own high schools.

I can only imagine how a devoted water polo player would feel to learn that an unqualified student had received admission by superimposing their head onto another player's body.

If cheating students could feign dedication — sacrificing sleep, practicing before and after school, spending countless hours traveling and competing — why put in a genuine effort?

It is a shame that hardworking athletes (and others) were denied entrance because of cheating. It was unfair. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: With new preventive measures in admissions offices, genuine students will now benefit from a fairer chance at admission.

At its core, the admissions scandal unearthed two truths: first, a lack of third-party (counselor) oversight, and second, a lack of direct communication between counselors and admissions officers.

Within our local high schools, we can take (and continue) additional measures to establish honest practices. Counselors ought to not just review each student's commitments and recognitions for strategy or leverage, but also for accuracy. Coaches and mentors ought to be contacted to approve stated achievements related to their respective disciplines.

On a broader level, too, credibility might take the form of a national database that displays counselor approval to admissions officers. This kind of rigorous, widely accepted process is critical to ensuring honest practices.

— Penelope Spurr

Lake Oswego High School

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