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Lessons From the College Admissions Scandal

These parents wanted the best for their children. But is any college worth what those families are facing now?

College Admission Scandal

It’s already the biggest college admission scandal ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, and there may be more charges to come. Wealthy families paid college placement specialist Rick Singer large sums to find illegal ways to gain their teens’ admission to elite colleges. Those who were indicted included actresses and venture capitalists, fashion designers and vineyard owners, dentists and college coaches.

The reality, though, is that the Department of Justice wasn’t really arresting high-profile professionals. They were arresting parents. Dads and moms who wanted what every parent wants—for their children to have the best opportunities in life.

Whatever their motivation, these parents surely went about it all wrong, arranging for bribes and falsified records. And in their efforts to help their children into the best schools, they did them a great disservice in a number of ways.

From best to worst

Just imagine if you were one of those children, many of whom apparently didn’t know what their parents had done to get them enrolled. We don’t know the family dynamics in each of these families, but you have to wonder if at least one of these children is thinking:

What must my friends think of me?

What do I think of me?

Apparently my parents didn’t think I’m good enough to get in. So is this what they really think of me and my abilities?

Why are my parents being led away in handcuffs?

Can I start over?

What the parents arguably intended for the child’s best interest has become their worst nightmare. Suddenly, something that seemed so important now seems so empty. Is any college worth what those children and those parents are facing right now?

The plight of every parent

Much of the social media commentary about the college admissions scandal has centered on privilege and wealth. But the real issue is much deeper and much more universal than that.

Even before a child is born, we parents want the best for them. We try to create the perfect nursery, and the most nurturing environment to grow in. As parents, we teach them well at home and provide the best educational opportunities for them. We introduce them to activities they can be involved in—whether it’s music, sports, dance—and we are there to cheer them on.

When we see in them a special talent, we encourage them to develop it more. We nudge (sometimes prod) them toward competitive sports leagues, top dance and music programs, and Advanced Placement studies. And when we see deficits, we provide them tutors, special training, or offer our focused attention.

All so they can have their best chance of making a good life for themselves.

But it’s always a fine line between wanting what we think is best for them and what’s actually best for them.

What do we do when they lose interest in something that we as their parents see as an area of potential, and instead opt for something that seems to be a waste of time? How do we handle it when the dreams we had for our kids seem to be dying because they’re not as gifted as we thought or because our dreams are not their dreams?

Whose life is it, anyway?

That seems to be the issue with actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. They allegedly paid a half million dollars to arrange for their two daughters to be admitted to the University of Southern California. And that, despite the fact that younger daughter Olivia Jade, had other interests. Since getting to USC, she has become a YouTube star with a following in the millions. And she’s been honest: “I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know. … Mostly, my parents really wanted me to go because both of them didn’t go to college.”

Never mind that both her parents seemed to have done well professionally without formal higher education.

Helicopter parenting is a real temptation today. In this highly-competitive society, well-intentioned parents hover over their children, taking too much responsibility for their successes and failures. Including college admissions.

The perfect parent

It’s easy to forget that God is the One who created our children in the first place. (Thankfully, though, He’s given us the pleasure of participating in the process). He has blessed us with children, not as a possession but as a stewardship. And as much as we want the best for them, His desires are better. God knows our children better than we do, even better than our children know themselves.

We raise our kids as well as we know how. But we need to learn from the best. Jesus told us, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

When we try to control the process for our childreneven the college transition processwe take on a role that was never meant to be ours. We stress ourselves to make sure that our kids are guaranteed success and can avoid the inevitable difficulties of life. And that includes college admissions. But Jesus taught a better way:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25,33).

Are we willing to let our children fail?

Are we content to see our dreams die in order to let our children’s dreams flourish? Do we encourage our children to look to God for fulfillment. Are we teaching them to seek His insight into who they are and what will give them true satisfaction in life? Are we willing to let our children fail, so that in their heartache and desperation, they reach out to Him for comfort today and direction for tomorrow?

As painful as it is, we need to let our children fail sometimes. Failure is a good teacher, and God is a redeeming God. Don’t seek to cocoon them from life’s bumps and bruises. Coach them through challenges and difficulties. Don’t do all the heavy lifting for them.

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Teach them diligence and perseverance, the value of doing their best, and then let them do it themselves. Cheer them on in their successes, and be there with unconditional love when they fail.

Emulating the perfect Parent

Finally, are we displaying the character and wisdom in ourselves that we want to see in our children, who will eventually become parents raising children of their own? How we wish some of these parents caught up in the admission scandal had heeded the advice of the ultimate Parent.

[T]hose who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction . . . But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. (1 Timothy 6:9,6-7)

Succeed or fail, He promises to “never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). As moms and dads, we would do well not to try to be the perfect parent, but to point our children to the one true perfect Parent.


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