United States

Admissions Expert Says ‘Operation Varsity Blues' is Nothing Compared to International Cheating

Lulu Curiel, founder of Ivy Advisors, says she’s seen a lot of unethical requests from parents willing to do whatever it takes to get their kids into college

Tuesday’s news about Operation Varsity Blues didn’t come as a surprise to college admissions consultant and founder of Ivy Advisors Lulu Curiel.

"I was preparing for a webinar on how to get into the top MBA programs, ironically, the ethical way, and I got a message from a friend who said, ‘Have you seen the news? I would love to see your opinion.’ It’s not surprising, it’s sad."

Curiel works with about 200 students a year who hope to get into an elite business school.

She decided to focus on grad students after spending eight years working with high schoolers and their parents.

"The dynamics have changed. Every kid is in varsity sports. They have high GPA’s, high SAT scores and the parents are overly competitive. Some of them, not all, think you have to win at all costs."

Curiel detailed some of the unethical requests she’s received from parents, and those who set up anonymous email accounts to ask if she’s willing to ghost write essays or tell them what experiences they should fabricate to write about.

"They understand it’s highly unethical. It’s not like they don’t know."

And college admissions consulting is lucrative. Data from the Independent Educational Consultants Association shows families spent $400 million on these services in 2012, and some advisors charge $6,000 to $10,000 per student.

Curiel said she’s not surprised nearly a third of the 50 people charged in connection to Operation Varsity Blues are from the Bay Area.

“You have engineers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs. There’s this illusion that you must get into a top school in order to make a great career and that’s not the case. If anything the Bay Area is proof that doesn’t need to happen,” Curiel said, adding, “Steve Jobs was a drop out.”

But Curiel said the United States has a better system to combat cheating than many other countries.

"The US is one of the most ethical countries I’ve seen. I think it’s built with the right values but internationally where corruption might be the norm and bribery is common, you have the worst cases. You can think of countries where people might look alike, they just pay somebody to test for you and ghost write your application."

Her biggest takeaway for parents and students? Set the right expectations. It’s not about the name brand of the school, it’s about finding the best setting to learn and succeed.

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