In this post, LAUNCH founder and head guidance coach Lauren Joyce Hensel reflects on the 2019 US college admissions bribery scandal and its fallout.
VARSITY BLUES: The College Admissions Scandal of 2019
When I heard about the US college admission scandal, I immediately thought, “Oh no, this won’t be good.” I felt angry, betrayed, frustrated, resentful, and generally unwell. LAUNCH’s website was only two weeks out from going live and we were preparing to accept clients. After spending the better part of the past month building out the services LAUNCH would offer (including university guidance), the past two months taking online classes to improve our knowledge, and the past five years wondering when to literally launch, I felt the news would de-legitimize the business. To us, this scandal (which is now a netflix documentary!) could mean disaster before our business began. But, we were not willing to give up yet.
IEC Counselors' High Standards
You see, I grew up in a blue-collar household with a father who was a journeyman pipefitter and a mother who was a pharmacy technician. In our family, you earned status through industriousness and resilience, where hard work created luck and opportunity, and where the truth would set you free. My parents ingrained in me that education could not be taken away, but the opportunity could if you did not work hard. So instead of giving up on my ambition to open LAUNCH, I persisted and intensified my efforts.
I expedited my application to the Independent Education Consultants Association to legitimize our ability to guide and advise families in an ethical manner. In fact, the IECA said it has seen membership requests increase as a result of the scandal, which they are viewing as an educational opportunity. I enrolled in additional classes to increase our knowledge base in guiding international students to avoid any bias, improve intercultural communication, and break the exploitation cycle occurring in independent education consulting. Lastly, I attended the IECA convention in Chicago to learn from experienced consultants and the IECA itself on best and next practices so LAUNCH can better serve its community (read more about IECs here).
The importance of College Advisors
While I knew the wealthy always had an advantage (do you really think everyone at Harvard got in on merit alone?), I believed in the possibilities and opportunities America is supposed to offer every single person. Although I acknowledge the power money holds over people and its ability to sway decision making, the scope and depth of unethical behavior outlined in the scandal shows the extremes families (including those in Operation Varsity Blues) will go to achieve or maintain a perceived status. This is not acceptable behavior. Corruption may work in the short term, but cheaters will be found out. The parents in the scandal robbed their children of opportunities, confidence building activities, and the ability to be their own person.
As a former collegiate All-American volleyball player, I am grateful for the trustworthy and industrious coaches who led my teams throughout the years. Since my parents only have high school diplomas, I relied on my school guidance counselor, whom I only met with for less than 30 minutes at age 16, volleyball coaches, and advice from friends and/or family. While I landed on my feet, some of the advice was not prudent or helpful. In fact, some advice stunted my ability to step outside my comfort zone. At LAUNCH, I want to provide trustworthy school guidance based on integrity and curiosity. We vow to every client and their family, that we will never participate in unethical behavior, but instead will provide them with quality coaching to help them discover their gifts and talents and introduce them to schools that will value what these students have to bring to the table.
College Admissions is Complicated
America has over 4,000 universities to choose from, and it can be tempting for parents to only consider schools ranked in the traditional top 50, as they want to be sure their child is getting the best education possible. The catch is admission rates to these schools continue to decline (This post explains how admission rates affect rankings and how universities game the system). In addition, tuition costs are on the rise, and financial aid funds are not always keeping pace, and in some cases, even decreasing. Top 50 schools are becoming increasingly more difficult for students to gain admission, either for financial or academic reasons. Luckily, there are at least 3950 other schools to choose from, all with their own sets of strengths and opportunities. There are more paths to success than just the Ivies; it takes flexible thinking, research, planning, and deep knowledge of the process. If the average person were to take on this research, they may overlook a great, unknown educational opportunity.
Instead of paying someone off to unethically secure a spot, work with a qualified independent education consultant who offers students and families opportunity, trust, and ethical guidance. #dreamlaunchsoar
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Joyce Hensel is the Founder of LAUNCH Education Advisors. She has 15 years of College Admissions experience and a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Illinois Institute of Technology. As a former D1 collegiate volleyball player and coach, she has a passion for college athletics and recruiting. Lauren currently resides in Chicago, Illinois with her family.