College Admissions Scandal: Who Is Really Cheating The System?

The recent indictment of dozens of wealthy and famous parents involved in a college admissions scam, should come as no surprise. Wealthy parents using their privilege and financial position to make sure their kids have a leg up in the college admissions process is nothing new. After nearly a year working as a college application essay editor for companies in Shanghai, China, and the U.S., I’m all too aware of the disparities between those who are financially able to pull out all the stops to help their children get into the colleges of their choosing, and those who are not so fortunate.

As a college education essay editor, I’m tasked with the job of editing the admissions essays of well-to-do high school students whose parents hire me to, in a sense, coach their children to be the best candidates they can be in order to gain admission to elite American universities. College education consultancy companies like the ones I work for regularly charge tens of thousands of dollars for personalized college counseling services.

Growing up in Cleveland, it was always impressed upon me that obtaining higher education was the key to success and financial security in life. From a young age I knew that going to a university was something I wanted, even needed to pursue. But as I got older and hipper to the ways of the world, it became increasingly apparent that higher education was not historically designed for me and people that looked like me, rather for the elite and wealthy in society, those of which are commonly White.

Like many of the “have-nots” I was reared to believe that if only I worked hard enough, tried my best, and got an education, everything would work itself out. But no one talked about the uphill battle I had to climb or the maneuvering I had to do to get where I wanted to go. Oftentimes, the cost of Blackness in America is having to work three times as hard to get half as much as our white counterparts.

My experience in the college consultancy game shows me otherwise, I saw first-hand the disparities that exist in the education system. In a typical work day I might do mock college interviews with students, conduct brainstorming sessions on possible essay topics and edit said essays. I’ve even combed through different university websites handpicking student organizations, libraries, courses of interest and other resources for students to include in their academic and admissions essays.


On the surface, all of these things are technically legal, but sometimes I can’t help but seethe with jealously for my younger self: we all could succeed in life if we had someone holding our hand throughout the entire process. My experience in this industry has shown me just how rigged education is at all levels. To add insult to injury, measures like affirmative action, which are supposed to be in place to promote diversity and the admission of people of color, women, and other historically disadvantaged individuals is currently under fire.

A common criticism of affirmative action is that taking things like race, gender or disability into account is a way of skirting the system and allowing certain individuals into places and positions to which they don’t rightfully belong. In actuality, the war on affirmative action is nothing more than academic gaslighting set forth by people who are literally buying their children’s way into college while throwing stones from glass houses. If nothing this blatant display of power and privilege blows the lid off of the disparities that exist in higher education and puts the question front and center: “Who is really cheating the system?”

— Niesha Davis (pictured), first began writing love poems as a teenager but then she grew up. Since then, she has published articles and essays for: Bust, Bitch, Lenny Letter, Women's Health, Sixth Tone, Ravishly, Narratively, and many other publications. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she currently resides in Chiang Mai Thailand. Follow her @brwnandabroad

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