Students react to Operation Varsity Blues


The University of Southern California is at the forefront of the scandal, joined by Stanford and the University of California, Los Angeles, among other schools across the country. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Tekla Carlen, Editor-In-Chief

The economic inequalities of the college application process entered the national spotlight last month. Federal prosecutors announced on March 12 that 50 people had been indicted on charges of mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. These parents, athletic coaches and test officials are part of a complex scam to get underperforming rich children into elite American universities. At the center of it all is Rick Singer, head of Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network.

The investigation made headlines for the outlandish lengths that the one percent of the one percent undertook to gain their children access to the University of Southern California (USC), Stanford, Georgetown and about five other colleges. The wealthy parents most infamously involved are actresses Lori Loughlin of “Full House” and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives.”

Thirteen of the 50 parents charged in association with the scandal hail from the Bay Area. Junior Laura Ehrlich met the son of Bruce and Davina Isackson at Peninsula Temple Sholom. The Isacksons, of Hillsborough, now plan to plead guilty after paying Singer more than half a million dollars to get their daughter into the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I was slightly surprised,” Ehrlich said, “but not overly.”

After the initial report, 16 of the parents indicted were also accused of money laundering. Most of the people involved, including Huffman, will plead guilty. Loughlin, on the other hand, has maintained her innocence.

Her daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli is a YouTuber who said on her channel in 2018 that “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend … I don’t really care about school, as you guys know.”

Loughlin spent $500,000 on fraudulent athletic recruiting so that Giannulli could attend USC. She spent an equal amount on Olivia’s sister for the same purpose.

As this news unfolded, Burlingame seniors awaited their own college decisions. Senior Courtney Rosales grew more worried than before about her prospects when she realized the full scope of the college application process’s corruption.

“I have been directly witnessing my classmates pour their hearts and souls into applications for schools that they are sometimes sadly getting turned away from,” Rosales said. “It devastates me to think of anyone who was not admitted into a school because another person who used lies and bribery took their place.”

Rosales will be attending Stanford University in the fall. She has worried that because of the scandal, people will be increasingly suspicious of students like her who have gotten into top colleges.

However, not all students think the corruption will have a negative effect on Burlingame applicants.

“Obviously, it is still very concerning, but we already have many more resources to help us get into a good college than other high schools do,” sophomore Isabella Arcoleo said. “I also feel since we live in such an affluent area, wealth has been normalized, so the idea of people buying their way into college … isn’t actually very shocking.”

Burlingame students wishing to be competitive university applicants may consult college counselors, hire Scholastic Aptitude Test tutors and spend hundreds of dollars on test preparation courses. All of these methods are perfectly legal, but as the federal courts examine Loughlin and her peers, the court of public opinion questions the ethicality of paying to get ahead legally when others cannot.

The jury is out, but College & Career Center Advisor Jonathan Dhyne warns students against application panic.

“There are so many amazing schools that are great fits for a lot of students,” Dhyne said. “Even if you didn’t get into UCLA, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a school out there that’ll prepare you for the future.”