Ucan Prep’s Opinions & Comments About The Recent Admission Scandal

The admission scandal is rightfully provoking anger, outrage, and frustration among parents, students (including our Ucan Prep students), educators, and, every one of us who believe in hard work, integrity, fairness, and, a system of meritocracy.

Good college consultants are nothing more than coaches and guides who point the way but the student does 100 % of the work. There are NO short cuts in life.

At Ucan Prep, we guide students through the test prep, college planning, and application process with the goal to become the best possible scholars who fairly earn their freshmen seats through the application of honest and hard effort, strategic planning, and their own authentic work. We hold ourselves to high moral standards and we expect our parents and students to do the same.

Following these, our students have achieved strong test score gains and have been admitted over the years to colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, Uc Berkeley etc..

Here are Ucan Prep’s Guiding Principles And Ethics.

Since 2005, as test prep and college advisors, Melody and I have worked hard to run our business on the following principles:

  1. Integrity and accountability. If a student does not achieve our guaranteed test score gains, we work with them for free until they do.
  2. We advise students to identify universities and colleges that are the right fit based on the student’s academic and extra-curricular accomplishment and interests.
  3. Ownership. We guide and motivate our students but they do all the work.
  4. We encourage our students to WORK HARD and SMART. Again, there are no shortcuts.
  5. Cani which is simply the principle of “constant and never-ending improvement”.

Sadly, the unethical practices used by a few bad apples in the college prep industry are nothing new.

Also, wealthy parents have been buying their child’s admission to elite colleges for decades. A former Ucan Prep client/mentor shared a few years ago about a function he attended in Bel-Air. At this event, the host, a hedge fund manager, proudly divulged to my mentor that he had strategically timed his donation of $15,000,000  $45,000,000 to two highly selective colleges; these donations were apparently designated towards the building of new edifices at these two college campuses.

His son applied that very year to one of these colleges and was admitted. Based on my mentor’s assessment, this young man did not meet the admit profile of that school, one of the most elite colleges in the US.

Even though there is nothing illegal in making such a huge donation, the life lessons this hedge fund manager imparted to his son were clearly misguided.

What is new about this college admission scheme masterminded by Rick Singer, the owner of the college counseling company in Newport Beach, is the scope, magnitude, and brazenness of this scam.

Furthermore, for every one student who achieved admission as a result of this scam, there was one qualified, deserving, honest and hard working student who was rejected.

Here is a sobering reality. When faced with an admission process that has become so cutthroat, there will be a few over-zealous, ultra-wealthy and unethical parents who will consider crossing the line, or, just do so without any thoughts of the moral and legal consequences.

In the quest of seeking more prestige by having their child attend an elite college, the parents involved in the scam not only lost their moral compass but also lost their sense of perspective.

Here is the question I would pose to these parents. “You are probably facing a prison sentence. Was your obsession to have your family’s name associated with a brand name school worth destroying your career, your morality and even more importantly, your child’s character?”

The parents who hired and worked with this egregious college counselor very likely knew that their teens did not meet the rigorous academic standards at these colleges. Yet, their obsession to have their children be eventually alumni of these elite colleges blinded their judgment.

Sadly, there are two observations I have noticed over the years.

Observation # 1

I have given consultation over the last 15+ years to a few parents whose kids clearly did not show or demonstrate the qualities and mindset required to get admitted into an elite college. For instance, their child lacked in one or more of the following pre-requisites:

  1. Consistently strong grades (the mathematical law of grade point averages cannot be undone)
  2. An initial strong diagnostic SAT or ACT score (to achieve 1500 + on the SAT, a student’s diagnostic test in the 9th, 10th, or 11th grade should be ideally a 1200+. To achieve a 34+, the ACT diagnostic test should be at least a 26+)
  3. The student had few to no honors, AP or IB classes).
  4. The student had never taken an SAT II subject test in the 9th or 10th grade.
  5. The student had poor writing skills (developing stellar writing skills is a fundamental requirement to produce strong personal statements and college applications)
  6. The child didn’t have a passion (admission officers at elite colleges look for passion and dedication) nor did s/he cultivate proficiency in two or three extra-curricular activities.
  7. One measure of proficiency is based on at what level can a student compete in a given field. There are 4 levels at which a student can compete in a science contest: regionals, state, national or international. As an example, competing in The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is the ultimate in the field of science contest.
  8. The parent nor the teen didn’t identify and strengthen early enough 3 to 4 hooks. A hook is a passion, skill-set, experience, innate ability that helps the student stand out in the admission process.
  9. Working closely with students in the admission trenches, we have uncovered over 38 hooks.
  10. Even if a handful of these students had uncovered and developed these hooks, very few knew how to strategically leverage these hooks by designing a college planning game plan and how to optimize them throughout their college application and college essays.
  11. We just covered the tip of the iceberg and have not yet covered the essential character and mindset traits we have noticed that students who went on to become future Ivy college admits already possessed as early the 9th grade.

A few of these traits are a strong work ethic, inner drive, ownership, a positive attitude, focus, mental toughness. strong time management and organizational skills to name a few.

It is only when the above-mentioned parents learned – during our complimentary consultation – about these basic academic/extra-curricular prerequisites and quality traits that they finally got a reality check and developed more realistic expectations for their child.

Now please understand that at Ucan Prep, we believe in the following moto that used by Mr. Jaime Escalante, one of my mentors in education. He said: “A student will rise to the level of the teacher’s expectations”. He should know. As demonstrated in the movie “Stand and Deliver”, disenfranchised students he taught at Garfield High school in East LA achieved 4’s and 5’s on the Calculus AB and BC exams.

This belief has been one of Ucan Prep’s core principles that have helped a large number of its students gain admission into their top college picks including the Ivies.

However, let’s be real. If you have a student who does not already possess the inner drive and mental toughness required to compete at the highest academic and extra-curricular levels, placing undue parental pressure on this student to get into an elite college is equally misguided.

Observation # 2

There are students we have worked with who initially possessed the basic academic and extra-curricular requirements and had a very good shot at gaining admission at the most elite colleges.

However, even with the best strategic preparation, there is absolutely no guarantee that a student will gain admission into a college like say Harvard. There are just way too many highly qualified students competing for very limited freshmen spots.

In the past, when a very qualified student gained admission to a few first-tiered colleges (say Northwestern) but was rejected by say Dartmouth, the family’s # 1 pick, it has pained and saddened me to hear about the emotional fallout caused by this rejection.

I have known for instance about parents who were, for instance, Stanford alumni who were so furious that their child was rejected that they deluged the admission offices with complaints, threats and even stopped all donations to their alma mater.

In light of the recent scandal, I get the consternation, anger, and frustration of parents whose students were recently rejected by the elite colleges named in the scam.

However, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Here is the lesson I hope us parents (my daughter goes to UCSB) learn. In today’s uber-competitive admission era, to be so emotionally invested in an admission outcome is a recipe for major disappointment.

Also, we live in a culture so obsessed with name brands that some unethical parents (such as those involved in the scandal) are willing to cross the line to ensure that their children gain admission into elite schools such as Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Uc Berkeley (my alma mater).

What is truly alarming are the parents, obsessed with brand name recognition, who do whatever it takes-legally or illegally-to get their child admitted into an elite college…

….even though the child does not want to attend that particular school. 

What is equally concerning are parents who put undue pressure on their children.

These two introductory paragraphs in a CNN article should raise an alarm to parents, educators, coaches who directly or indirectly put excessive pressure on students. 

As a high school senior in Louisiana, Lauren Fidelak maintained a 4.0 GPA and scored a stellar 34 on her ACT. But when she applied to her preferred schools, the University of Southern California and UCLA, she wasn’t accepted.

The rejections left her so upset she had an emotional breakdown and needed to be hospitalized in Boston. 
The article goes on to read: Fidelak and her mother, Keri, are now among seven students and parents who filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status against USC, UCLA and other colleges named in this week’s sprawling admissions scandal, saying their admissions process was “warped and rigged by fraud”.

Whether the pressure was caused by Ms. Fidelak’s parents or it was self-induced, this very unfortunate outcome and decision to litigate sadly displays a loss of perspective and lack of acceptance of the fact that the admission process is flawed.

We tell our students to do your best and God will take care of the rest. Once you know you have submitted your best possible college application, you must detach from the outcome because you have no control of the outcome.

Here is a fact of life I want our students to learn and be aware of.  Scams happen in the real world. Life can be cruel and very unfair. 

But here is another fact. Students who are honest, industrious and who stay the course in executing a well-thought test prep, college planning, and application strategy will eventually prevail. They may not get into their dream college but they will be able to hold their heads high look at themselves in the mirror knowing they did the right thing.

Our current students and alumni have consistently proven this principle.

Finally, as parents, we should all continually seek to set high moral standards for our children who are the next generation because in the end, doing the right thing is all that counts.

Jonathan and Melody Mitchell
Co-founders and co-directors of the Ucan Prep.