Kaplan Survey: College Applicants Are Concerned About Unfairness in Admissions, But Most Admissions Officers Say Widespread “Varsity Blues” Behavior is Uncommon

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Press Contacts: Russell Schaffer, russell.schaffer@kaplan.com, 212.453.7538
Twitter: @KapTestNews, @KaplanSATACT

New York, NY (September 23, 2019) — The fallout from Varsity Blues, the scandal that included wealthy and celebrity parents bribing college officials, coaches, and test proctors to help their kids get admitted to some of the country’s most competitive colleges, is causing concern from students and admissions officers, according to two new Kaplan Test Prep surveys. Of the more than 300 aspiring college students polled, 57 percent say they are concerned that their spot at their top college choice might be given to a less qualified applicant because of who that applicant is connected to*. And 23 percent say they personally know a college applicant who they believe was less qualified, but received preferential treatment in admissions because of family wealth or connections.

Said one high school student who planned to apply to only top colleges, “I know numerous people that have connections to my top school, whereas I do not. I am especially concerned because I have a greater SAT score than them, but they will have an upper hand and be admitted. I have seen it previously with friends and now I am concerned for myself.”  Another student showed less concern and expressed some optimism, saying, “In light of the admissions scandals, colleges will be more attentive and aware of these types of schemes. Also, considering a number of the parents who were caught and punished, I don’t believe that this will be a large problem in the future.”

In a separate Kaplan survey of over 300 top colleges and universities across the United States—something the company has done annually for 15 years—admissions officers suggest that the corrupt practices exposed in Operation Varsity Blues are rare**. Less than a quarter (24 percent) describe the illegal activities as common. Just 11 percent say they were ever pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet their school’s admissions requirement because of who that applicant was or to whom this applicant was connected. This represents a significant drop from the 25 percent who said they were pressured to do so when Kaplan first asked this question of admissions officers in 2014.

But despite admissions officers’ sense that this is uncommon, 49 percent say the scandal may have done long term harm to the public image of the college admissions process; 37 percent don’t think it has, while 14 percent aren’t sure.  When asked about how colleges can convince families that the admissions process is not “rigged” against them, admissions officers were largely unable to provide any specific policy prescriptions, but the theme of transparency was mentioned often. One admissions officers called the scandal a “wake-up call” for colleges to be more “ethical with all of their processes.”

“Like most people, we were appalled at what was exposed as part of Operation Varsity Blues. We know firsthand from working with hundreds of thousands of students every year how much effort students put into their academics, and they should feel confident that they are being evaluated by college admissions officers based on their own merit and overall quality of their application,” said Sam Pritchard, Kaplan’s director of college prep programs. “While our survey finds that most students think they could be at risk of being kept out of their top college picks to the benefit of their well-connected peers, it is somewhat encouraging to know that the vast majority of colleges think these activities are uncommon and fewer report being pressured to accept unqualified applicants than in years past. Still, a lot more needs to be done to safeguard the process and restore integrity and trust. Applicants deserve better.”

To schedule an interview with an admissions expert at Kaplan, contact Russell Schaffer at 212.453.7538 or russell.schaffer@kaplan.com

*Based on the results of a Kaplan survey conducted by email between March 2019 and September 2019 of 313 high school students who took a Kaplan SAT® or ACT® preparation course.
**322 admissions officers from the nation’s top national, regional and liberal arts colleges and universities – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report – were polled by telephone between July and August 2019.

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About Kaplan Test Prep

Kaplan Test Prep (www.kaptest.com) is a premier provider of educational and career services for individuals, schools and businesses. Established in 1938, Kaplan is the world leader in the test prep industry. With a comprehensive menu of online offerings as well as a complete array of print books and digital products, Kaplan offers preparation for more than 200 standardized tests, including entrance exams for secondary school, college and graduate school, as well as professional licensing exams for attorneys, physicians and nurses. Among those tests are the SAT®, PSAT®, ACT®, GRE®, GMAT®, LSAT®, MCAT®, NCLEX-RN® and bar exams. Kaplan also provides private tutoring and graduate admissions consulting services.

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