Review: UNACCEPTABLE: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal by Melissa Korn & Jennifer Levitz (2020)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook

Yes. I’m still inhaling everything I can about fraud. Fraudsters did a whole series, including interviews with the authors of this book who did the investigating (the episodes start with 36: Rick Singer Part I). While the series is thorough, I did want to get at it from the source.

The saga of the college admissions scandal is much stranger than even the reports can come out. It’s a story of the desperation to prove oneself and having awfully specific goals that supersede decency. It’s also a scathing condemnation at the ridiculousness that is applying to college for which there is no real solution as long as branding and exclusivity take priority over the quality of education.

A great read if you want to make fun of the ridiculousness of rich people and also get incredibly angry about privilege and gaming systems that already bend towards those who are winning.

I think the stories of fraud that make me invested the most are those where there are consequences for bad behavior. Yes, Rick Singer had something to prove to…someone (that part is really left in the air, because he achieved his goal of a million-dollar home but then just, kept going). But in terms of the greater infrastructure that is higher ed in the U.S., it’s turtles all the way down of advantages and what meritocracy even means, if it means anything at all. Sure, some of the parents went to jail, some of the coaches had to pay fines and lost their jobs, but college admissions is still a disaster.

The book asks very important questions around what accountability is, who the victims are, what can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again. There are students whose photos were doctors so that other children can get into school, they are clearly victims of this scandal. But then there’s the questions of students who could have gotten in if not for the fraud, but that feels speculative and makes prosecution difficult. The entire system needs to be reformed on several fronts.

The part that gets me most is how little self-reflection there was on the part of most parents. Sure, some of the their kids worked hard to be interesting and stand out among an already competitive applicant pool. But others feel they deserve spots in schools that are all about branding as exclusive. Throw in the navigation around student loans and it’s an entire mess. A lot of the parents involved in the scandal could more than support their students (some of the donations were lump sum the price of an entire year of schooling). I feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it.

It’s interesting because reflecting on my own higher education journey, the perception of the school definitely mattered a lot to my parents. It came from a place of being immigrants in America and having no interior concept of what “making it” looks like. They knew about Ivies, but little about other schools. That, I think, is the crux of the problem. There’s little reflection beyond the scope of the scandal of what “a good education” looks like, especially as college becomes less of an advantage and more a baseline requirement. It’s mired in classism without any clear answers.

This read is thought-provoking and raises a ton of questions about internal and external validation, both on the part of students and their parents.

One thought on “Review: UNACCEPTABLE: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal by Melissa Korn & Jennifer Levitz (2020)

  1. Pingback: April 2022 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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