What a College Admissions Leader Has to Say on the Recent Bribery Scandal

Published March 15th, 2019

Patrick Zylka
Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid and Graduate Services
Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music
Northwestern University

Like many who work in college admissions, I was deeply saddened by the recent news regarding the college advisory scheme. I find it troubling that individuals conspired in this way to cheat a system that I hold so dear. Because celebrities and other people of great wealth and influence are involved, there will be many scandalous newspaper headlines and breaking news alert graphics on cable news. But in all this I do not want the conversation on ethical admissions practices to be lost, nor the conversation that should - and must - occur between college applicants, their families, and professionals engaged to provide assistance in the college admissions process.

The vast majority of us who work in college admissions do so because we firmly believe that there is a perfect institution for each young person who wants to attend college. We see it our role to determine who in our applicant pool will fit best on our campus, thrive in the environment that we offer, and successfully navigate the requirements on their way towards graduation. There are no side doors or back doors - only front doors. There are no "spots" that belong to anyone in advance of the process. We look at each individual applying, and take great care in examining their strengths, while keeping in mind the overall class that we are aiming to enroll. This is critically important to the work that we do. We want our admitted applicants to know that they are being admitted on their own merits. We also want those not offered admission to know that we gave them fair and equal consideration in our process. This week's news has made it more difficult for everyone in my field right before admissions decisions are to be released by many institutions.

In speaking with thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of high school students and their families about college admissions, there are a few themes that remain consistent over time. One of these themes is that all young people need to construct their own ranking of institutions. Colleges and universities are proud of their rankings, and indeed I work for one that is rightfully very proud of the international reputation that we have. But ultimately each individual applying to colleges must determine which institution is the best fit for them as an individual. Perhaps colleges with great name recognition. Perhaps colleges that you've never heard of before. By constructing this individualized and personal list, each young person is setting himself or herself up for a successful admissions experience.

I hope that there will be continued conversations on these and other related topics. College is meant to be one of the best times in one's life - a time of learning, curiosity, growth, and discovery. It is my hope that this will continue to be true, and this will not be tarnished by a small percentage of individuals who have traded their integrity for an unfair advantage.

Want more? Read the reaction from a college prep and audition coach dedicated to helping young artists.

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