Buying Happiness: The Rick Singer Scandal

Bribing officials to get your kid into school and yourself into jail

Rick Singer was part of the ever-growing, bias-creating, and decision-distorting college-counselor industry. With legitimate college counselors, you pay a fee for the hands-on assistance of the counselor to help your child put his best foot forward on college applications. A legitimate service for the 1% that can afford it.

Huffman, Singer, Loughlin

Singer took it one giant step farther. He brokered admissions deals between desperate parents and coaches and administrators at colleges. Example:

Singer makes a deal with the soccer coach at a college for the coach to tag an applicant as “high value” or “must have” for the soccer team. If the student gains admission, Singer obtains a “fee” or “donation” from the parent, pays off the coach, and keeps a cut for himself.

TigerMom: Let’s take pictures of you kicking the soccer ball around in the yard.

JuniorGirl: Really? I hate sports, sweat, and all that stuff. That’s for my brother, Mom, not me.  I read books and volunteer at the homeless shelter.

TigerMom: Oh, I know, but how about a few pictures?  And put on your brother’s high-school soccer team jersey.

JuniorGirl: Fine. But this is weird, Mom.

Many times, unbeknownst to JuniorGirl, TigerMom would send the pictures to Singer along with a substantial cash payment. JuniorGirl would get an admissions-committee endorsement from the soccer coach and get into the school.

I know this sounds crazy, but this really happened many times over at well-known schools around the country. I had a friend with high school and college-age children at the time. He lived in a wealthy neighborhood on the west coast (prime target market for Singer). He said to me, “Everybody around here is crapping their pants about the Singer thing and hoping the FBI doesn’t show up at their front door.”

The Singer Scandal ruined many lives. Some say the parents, all of whom were one-percenters and included Hollywood personalities such as Laurie Loughlin and Felicity Huffman (both of whom served time in prison for their involvement) deserved the fines and prison time, but what about the students? Most of them had no idea that any of this was happening. How about the cases of students that were college juniors or seniors when it came to light that their admissions were tainted?

This goes well beyond getting advice from family and friends, it is, in a word, criminal. Parents Gone Wild might be a funny title for all of this if it weren’t so sad. Is a child’s college process really a steppingstone for parents to improve their own social status and brag about how their child was admitted to, or more likely, visited a top school?

Be on the lookout for our podcast on this topic. Coming soon!



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