Meet the New Scam

Remember that kid who invented all those brilliant ways to cheat in high school? Even before electronic communications, he was making crib sheets in ingenious ways. Writing information on his sleeve, hiding notes in his sneakers, there was nothing he wouldn't do.

Except study, of course.

Parents today have stolen a page from the playbook of our young fraud. If headlines are to be believed, these misguided folks are now shelling out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to hucksters who profess to have the formula for admissions to top colleges.

What is a top college according to the silliness? One that is high in the rankings of that absurd and--on my street--largely discredited magazine. Fallacy tottering on fallacy. By this logic, why not rank women (or men) from most to least desirable? Ignoring individual differences would allow us all to double the money we spend on a college education and pursue the same people. (Needless to say, I believe that my lovely wife would top the charts ahead of Sophia Vergara and Jennifer Aniston, but I'll have to wait for the formula to be quantified and the magazine to be published to be certain of where she stands.)

For every thousand dollars these parents spend gaming the college admissions process, they should instead take their kids camping (or for a walk on the beach or to the library or to the scrap-booking store or to the home of an elderly neighbor to drop off some home-made cookies.) The investment will pay off in every more meaningful way.

Because the research is unequivocal: who you are matters more than where you go. Kids with ability, whether they go to colleges that admit 6% or 60% of their applicants, end up the same; they do fine independent of the name on the sweatshirt. Kids without ability don't do well. Again, it doesn't matter nearly as much where they go to school.

Of course "ability" is a hard deer to hunt, a tricky term to define. But in this context ability might be defined as "knowing that the test is next Monday, but that there is a paper due next Tuesday and that putting off starting the paper until after the exam will leave only one day to write it which isn't enough so I better shut down the text function on my phone and make an appointment to see the professor to run an idea by her and then I better make a few tuna sandwiches because it's going to be a long night in the library because this is a tough course and I know that I'm going to have to read the chapter twice and it looks like I'm going to miss the pep rally for the football game."

Kids who are able to delay gratification, organize their time, prioritize, seek help, plan ahead, and take responsibility for their process do well. Kids who are able to acknowledge, embrace, and articulate their learning styles do well. Kids who know that they can read 15 pages an hour of a complicated text book and that they can study for three hours before their brain turns to mush and they need a break also do well.

This is not news.

Kids who stop playing "League of Legends" at one in the morning, so they can get the reading done for their nine a. m. class? Kids who smoke pot and forget they have a paper due? Kids who lie to their professors, lie to their parents, and lie to themselves about how much they are studying? Kids who don't know to ask for help to get their stuff done? They do less well.

I met a seemingly well intentioned father the other day who was ready to write a check for two million dollars to facilitate his child's admission to a "top" school. I could not help but wonder how much he was willing to spend to keep her there.

Here's a not so secret formula: stop spending time, effort, and money on worrying about where your children will go to college. Invest your treasure on focusing on who your children are.

Because no matter where you go, there you are.

Oh, and here's the "secret" of the "success" of the scam artist charging hundreds of thousands of dollars purporting to have cracked the formula for admission to top colleges. This swindle has been around since the 30s but every generation brings newer and more naive sheep. The independent counselor promises to "get your child in" to a top college or your money back. This time the fraud has a "formula;" years ago he "knew someone" in admissions. Either way, the promise of "I'll get your kid in to a top college or your money back" is made to a number of feckless families. Statistically, some of them get in. Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford all admit fewer than one student in ten but SOMEBODY gets in. The huckster tells your kid to play the tuba or to volunteer at the nursing home. Or he gives your kid some magic beans.

In any case, if the student doesn't get admitted to a "top" school, the parents get their money back. If the kid does get admitted the slime-oid laughs all the way to the safety deposit box. It doesn't take too many $200,000 payouts to make a good, if despicable, living.

In the meantime, hard-working, ethical counselors across the country will continue to spread the message: there is no formula that guarantees admission to "top" colleges.

And who your kid is matters more than where she goes.

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