A timely study on parental honesty and morality in college admissions

I don’t know how some parents can justify the lines they cross. I’ve heard some talk about finishing their kid’s homework, filling out apps, “helping” them write college essays… It doesn’t surprise me that upper income parents would pay for corrected standardized tests and more. What does floor me is the reasoning (so their kid can have a “fair shot”). ?

I think it gets easier when they see people like Chelsea Clinton, Malia Obama, and Jared Kushner being accepted to top places, to say nothing of the information out of the Varsity Blues scandal.

Look, the ethical tone is set at the top, and the elite colleges have been complicit in what most people perceive to be a deeply unfair system for a long, long time.

If the system creates incentives to equivocate, to be less than honest, and to cheat, how can we honestly expect all of us won’t, especially when the stakes are perceived to be so high? The problem with college admission is systemic, not just because of human failings. There’s a reason no other country in the world does it the way we do here.

My sister submitted my nephew’s application to JHU at the very last minute. It wasn’t even on his radar. I think she did it because it didn’t require a supplemental essay back then. It turned out to be the only school he was accepted to, other than his state school. The rest was history. He had great 4 years there and met his wife.

I remember my father typed a lot of our college applications when each application had to be done individually. I don’t know why it’s so bad for parents to help out with the applications because they are generally very straight forward. It’s not like they could lie about a kid’s GPA or ECs. I would say most parents on CC helped their kid with essays or hired a consultant to do it. The question is to what degree did they help. I hired a consultant for D2, but I know she wrote all of her essays with editing from the consultant. I know D2’s application was more polished and maybe read better than D1’s (no private consultant), but I don’t think it was D1’s application that prevented her from getting admitted to HYPS.

My kids had a leg up relative to other kids because I paid for their private school education, testing tutoring, ECs. If we want to have complete fair level playing field, then students should be admitted based on entrance exam (nothing else) and no tutoring allowed. I don’t think too many parents should pat themselves on their backs too much about their kids getting into colleges fair and square.

I started a thread over a year ago that talked about whether we are too invested in our kids college application process. In summary, yes we are, and I think it will only get worse as the perceived “stakes” get higher.


My personal feeling is that students should own the process; it’s THEIR application not ours. We had our own applications years ago when we applied to college in the dark ages. If they are not adult enough to handle the application process (with some limited guidance) then maybe they are not ready to go away to college and live on their own?

Also, it should be noted that one of the reasons cheating works is that it is so easy for a reasonably bright kid to get lost and coast even at HYP. Admittance is the real hurdle.

Only about 10% of the class * at most * is chosen for its superior intellectual ability (Pinker says 5% at Harvard), so there is no downside for “prestige seeking.”

There’s a reason we don’t hear too much about bribery scandals or politicians kids at MIT and CalTech.

1 Like

I think a parent submitting an application for their kid is totally unethical and should be grounds for revocation if discovered. The student being successful or not is totally irrelevant.


As an insider at one college, you have a good idea of what to look for and where to look for it for colleges where you are an outsider, compared to, for example, a first generation to college student at a high school where the overburdened counselor is just trying to get students to graduate band maybe get to the local community college or less selective non flagship state university (and may not mention things like more selective colleges for top students, SAT subject tests, etc.) and teachers have little or no experience writing recommendations.

Those at prep schools with privileged connections and dedicated college counselors also have an advantage in being guided through high school to build high school resumes attractive to highly selective colleges, and those counselors can also make better assessments on chances for each student at such colleges (part of guiding them to colleges where they fit best from the college’s point of view).

In post #10 you ask how kids are going to be able to manage their time in college if they can’t be bothered to fill out the common app while in high school? With my eldest her high school work load was far heavier than her college work load has been so far. For parents seeing their kid go through this for the first time there’s the pressure to maintain their gpa and complete applications to colleges with ever shrinking acceptance rates, which scares people into applying to more colleges, which creates more pressure and stress. It’s horrible to see a kid who cares go through that and not be able to help in any way.
I haven’t been able to help my kids with school work since they were 10 or 11. None of my kids would be getting in anywhere great if I had a hand in their essays.
The sum total of my involvement has been reading lots on here, driver for campus visits (absolutely loved it and wish I’d gone to college), and alerting them to the fact the Common App essay prompts weren’t changing so they could crack on over the summer ( absolutely zero chance the new this year school guidance counselor was going to do that) and avoid some of the stress their older sister endured. That’s it.

I worry sometimes when I read about tutors for SATs and counselors familiar with the application process been hired for, what I consider, a lot of money. I think once you’ve established that it’s not a level playing field it’s not such a great moral leap to decide your going to help however you can to give your kid a leg up. I’m not saying I think it’s ok to write your kid’s essay. I don’t think it is. But when you know there are pros out there getting paid to write some kid’s essays I can understand how some parents succumb. The prize can be life changing.

First generation to college students are probably more likely to have written applications without special parental or other assistance. But such students are greatly underrepresented at most of the more selective and desired colleges talked about here.

“If we want to have complete fair level playing field, then students should be admitted based on entrance exam (nothing else) and no tutoring allowed.”

Once upon a time admittance was based on entrance exams and the playing field was not level. How would the “no tutoring” be enforced? I sympathize with the desire to find a fair and equitable solution, though. It is a scam that the same folks who sell the SAT test also sell the tutoring and study guides for the test. I guess if they didn’t, someone else would, though.

  1. The comment about Pinker is misunderstanding what that 5% is.
  2. It's always easier to blame an institution than ourselves.
  3. You overestimate, @ucbalumnus . And underestimate. Imo.

Anyone can search for the info needed. You won’t be a fly on the wall, but you can get more than speculation offers. CC is not the be-all and end-all resource.

From Pinker’s famous piece:

Pinker should know. He’s been a professor at Harvard for the last 17 years and before that was at MIT for 20.

The whole piece is worth reading:

If you believe the authors, any meaningful adult help with essays could be unethical. Allowing an adult parent or consultant to make substantive edits will invariably lead to inserting some of the adult’s thinking or voice into the essay.

I worry that our culture is adopting the “do whatever it takes, lie, cheat, plagiarize, tho get ahead” that is some times seen in some others.

And more cheating…https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/07/us/college-cheating-papers.amp.html

Pinker had no role in admissions. And he had an agenda. There is a minor percent admitted based on academic merit alone. Or primarily. You can find H comments on this, straight from the horse’s mouth.

But the question here is morality. If a parent writes the app, the parent is to blame. If a student buys a paper, that’s cheating.

If you pay a pro counselor to construct what you can’t, shame on you. Advice and guidance are different. Informed advice is no issue to me, when it stops there and the kid is responsible for his work.

Same as tutoring is fine; taking a test for someone or providing the answer key are not.

Where is the line? Parents helps with essay: OK? Parent gives kid the topic and rewrites essay: not OK? What else can parents really do on the apps themselves? Type in the common app information? It is really about the essay, which doesn’t count for all that much for most admissions. Schools know that kids get help with the essay.

What about tutoring? Not just for the SATs but for Calculus or AP Spanish? Are those grades truly earned by the student, or is it the tutor who has an in at the HS that coaches the student on what to learn for the tests? What about parents who write/heavily edit kid’s papers in HS? The parental push may be incorporated to many parts of their student’s record.

One of the things that makes the college application process challenging is the multiple types of application deadlines (likely the result of colleges wanting to have a higher percentage of accepted applicants attend for ratings). It seems reasonable for a high school student to fill out the common application and manage one early and one regular deadline.

However, there are schools with rolling admission, EA, ED, college within university specific, and financial aid priority deadlines. Some state universities, including the state where I live, do not use the common application. And, even if you do the common application, many schools require two to three additional essays. At the same time, parents are working the FAFSA and CSS.

This is not a friendly system for 17 year olds. In fact, it isn’t a straight forward system for anyone to navigate.