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College scandal fallout: Honesty is key

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As the director of college counseling at St. Mary’s School, Lesley Klecan has an analogy handy to give students who are aiming for elite schools a little perspective.

“The college admissions process can be likened to trying to get a table at a restaurant, and you are a single person,” she said. “All the seats at the bar are filled, and there’s an eight-top open — but you’re not with a group of eight. So that group of eight comes in after you and they get seated. And you have just as much right to be there, and you’re qualified, but that’s not what the restaurant needed at the time.”

Klecan wants seniors waiting for word from universities with single-digit acceptance rates to remember that some factors are unrelated to their qualifications.

“In every situation of really elite institutions, there are more kids who are qualified who apply than can just simply be seated,” she said. “We talk a lot about how it’s not important to be better; it’s important to be authentically yourself.”

Revelations from an FBI investigation made public March 12 that dozens of wealthy and high-profile parents helped their students inauthentically gain admission to elite schools — including bribing coaches and test proctors — are disheartening, local students and administrators say. Seniors waiting on word from colleges or making plans to pay for it who spoke with the Mail Tribune said that honesty, not only to schools but also themselves, plays a central role in their decisions.

Sean Keating, a senior at St. Mary’s, said that news of the admissions scandal didn’t shock him because of how cryptic the acceptance process is.

“I wasn’t really surprised that you’d just get to pay your way in if you’re worth tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “But it definitely is a little discouraging knowing that some people might be able to pay their way in when you have to work your hardest to be able to even have a chance.”

Keating, who is interested in pursuing a career in finance or politics, is waiting to hear back from several high-level schools, including Dartmouth and Duke. Though he’s excited by the idea of what he described as an academically “proficient” environment, he said he didn’t feel pressure to fit a certain mold to get there.

Some of his classmates shared that sentiment.

“I believe that it should not be me trying to change myself in order to fit the agenda of colleges,” said Luka Cvijanovic, a senior. “It’s up to me to find the proper match and not change myself in order to fit another agenda.”

For some students, though, another factor weighs heavier in the decision of where to apply or choose acceptances: cost.

Calix Kim, who applied to U.S. colleges as an international student, said he based his choices on where he was likely to get financial aid.

“I would basically just Google the school name and “international financial aid” and if they said need-aware, or anything related to ‘you have a low chance of getting in as an international,’ I would just take it out of the list,” he said.

Jeri Childress, who works with students in North Medford’s Tornado Futurecenter, said many of her conversations by this point in the year have turned from acceptances to scholarships.

“It’s nice to dream and shoot for those schools, but if they’re not going to give you that financial package you want, make sure you think it through,” she said. “We really have a lot of kids who think things through very seriously that way.”

Gabby Parks is a senior at North who is in that stage. She applied to a range of state universities as well as a couple of schools that were more selective, such as Notre Dame.

Parks, who is interested in studying aerospace engineering, was influenced primarily by her career interests and the financial viability of attending a school in her application process, she said.

She’s been offered an Air Force ROTC scholarship that she is considering taking with her to the University of Colorado at Boulder. It would cover only the cost of in-state tuition, leaving the remainder up to her.

Applying for a multitude of scholarships on top of her regular schoolwork has been stressful, Parks said, but she expressed pity for the students who found out that their parents paid their way into the schools.

“It’s pretty sad,” Parks said, “taking the kids away from being able to strengthen their work ethic ... It kinda skews their own confidence in their own work if they find out that their own parents paid to let them in.”

Klecan said that working with parents in the college admissions process is an important piece.

“The important thing is for the kids to take ownership in this process,” she said. “We laugh and say if you can’t fill out a form, you might not be ready to go to college.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Students and counselors called news of a widespread cheating scandal involving parents paying their students' way into elite colleges "disheartening." But at St. Mary's School in Medford, students are told to put fit first in their decisions.Thumbnail
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune St. Mary's High School students study at the library on Thursday. They say the college admissions scandal is disheartening, especially "when you have to work your hardest to be able to even have a chance."