Don’t feel bad for fibbing about your Spanish fluency on your college application.
“I know parents who whipped up a charity for their kid, and did a fake photo shoot with disabled children,” Ron Foley, an independent education counselor, tells The Post. “The parents set it all up and said that the kid raised all this money, but truly it was a single donor — the parents . . . It was just a scam to get the kid into college.”
That’s not all. Foley, who’s helped kids apply to colleges for 30 years, including stints at the college-ranking company the Princeton Review and a Kaplan standardized-test prep center in San Francisco, says that one teenager’s mom “had her daughter evaluated for a hearing issue that was not present” in order to get her extra time on standardized tests.
Did it work?
“Let’s just say it was for an Ivy League school — and she’s there now.”
People were shocked by this week’s federal indictment of 50 people — including “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman — in a large-scale college-admissions racket. But to higher-ed experts, bribery, cheating and outright insane behavior is run-of-the-mill when it comes to securing someone’s spot at a top-tier university.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” says Foley, who now owns his own college-application consulting company and charges between $ 7,000 and $ 10,000 to help kids get into their dream schools. “I’ve had offers like, ‘Can you get somebody to take the test for me [for] $ 15,000?’ ”
Some have test scamming down to a science. A group of international students were busted in 2015 and 2016 for accepting up to $ 7,000 for taking the TOEFL (an English-language proficiency exam) for other people, but that hasn’t seemed to deter other US co-ed wannabes.
One December 2018 message on WeChat, a texting app that’s popular in Asia, advertises various deals for the SAT. “US pricing: 1,800 yuan [about $ 270 USD] at the Los Angeles testing centre . . . We guarantee a 1,550+ [out of a 1,600-point SAT], it’s quite difficult to get a full score, so you’ll have to pay more for that.” Prices for the international version, administered at a Hong Kong testing center, came at a discount: about $ 200.
I’ve had offers like, ‘Can you get somebody to take the test for me [for] $ 15,000?
According to a Georgia high school student, who was born in China and asked to remain anonymous as he aspires to go to MIT, a scam ring run by his friend takes advantage of time zones, corruptible middlemen and stereotypes.
Some cheats are straightforward: A test administered in Hong Kong will be given hours later in the West, so testers can simply pay off test proctors to turn a blind eye, then snap and share pictures of the exam questions with stateside test-takers. Others are more elaborate: Fake Chinese passports can be created for paid testers to present to test administrators. “The counterfeit wouldn’t make it through the airport, but it makes it through the SAT,” the student says, adding that racial stereotyping enables this bait-and-switch: It only works because people see you as “a generic Chinese person.”
Then there are parents who are willing to actually mutilate their kids for a shot at an athletic scholarship to a fancy campus. Chris Siedem, founder of the Perfect College Match, a company that helps high school athletes hoping to play at university level, says some parents bring their teenage sons “into the doctor’s office and ask for Tommy John surgery.”
The procedure, named after a Yankees pitcher, is designed to repair a torn ligament in the arm — and some who have undergone the surgery “have come back throwing harder and faster,” says Siedem, a Long Island native who lives in Colorado. So parents turn to the scalpel, hoping the aftermath will lead to pitching arms that wow athletic recruiters.
And it’s not just parents and students gaming the system: Admissions officers aren’t as sanctimonious as you’d hope, says Jaye Fenderson, a former Columbia University admissions officer. She admitted students from 2000 to 2002, and says high-profile applicants “get a different look” at elite schools.
“They are flagged when they come in,” says Fenderson, whose film on higher education, “Unlikely,” premieres in New York Thursday. “I remember when Malia [Obama] was applying. All the schools were vying, because the president’s daughter is a big get.”
Even college presidents get caught up in illicit behavior. “One of my friends was the editor in chief of the Princeton Review,” says Foley. “There was a college who wanted to be in the guide. They rolled out the red carpet for a weekend. At the end, the president said, ‘Are we going to get into the guidebook or not?’ He pointed outside the window, and there was a brand-new Corvette in the driveway. He said, ‘You can have that Corvette if we get in.’ ”
As with organized crime, Foley says there’s a coded language when it comes to dubious admissions strategies. “If I gave the signal that I would be open to that, I’m sure I could find that business. It’s totally there.”
Like many others in his field, he doesn’t fully blame the parents, and thinks it’s an institutional issue. In particular, he says, he’d like to see college-admissions offices be less opaque about their work — because it makes everyone on the outside crazy. “If the game is rigged, what can I do to out-shark the sharks?”
And given the cost of tuition, and the narrative that has everyone’s future riding on their college degree, he doesn’t see bribery ending anytime soon.
For panicked parents, he says, a few grand is “a drop in the bucket.”
The most memorable scams in recent university history:
1999: In his 2016 book, Vijay Chokalingam, brother of Mindy Kaling, claims he identified himself as black instead of Indian to get into medical school at Saint Louis University, which later denied that his race was a factor in his admission.
1999-2000: Tennessee high school football coach Lynn Lang uses his star player, Albert Means, to lure colleges into padding his own bank account. As part of the pay-to-play scheme, a booster shells out $ 150,000 to Lang to recruit Means to the University of Alabama.
2010: Adam Wheeler, a 24-year-old former student, is found guilty of forging straight-A transcripts from the prestigious private high school Phillips Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to earn admission to Harvard University and steal $ 45,000 in scholarship money and financial aid.
2011: Twenty Nassau County students receive criminal charges after taking part in a wide-ranging standardized-test cheating ring, in which students shelled out thousands of dollars to get others to take the SAT and ACT for them to increase their score.
2018: The Post uncovers the alarming trend of parents using doctors to fake medical conditions for their kids, so they would receive extra time and other beneficial accommodations while taking the SAT and ACT.