College Admissions Scandal: A Med Student Reacts

Frank Cusimano

Disclosures

March 21, 2019

Recently, the FBI released a 204-page indictment, charging dozens of individuals for college admissions bribery in the wake of "Operation Varsity Blues." By now, I am sure you have heard the story: Rich parents, including some actors and corporate executives, manipulated the system in shocking ways to get their kids into good schools. Among the defendants are Homayoun Zadeh, a professor at USC's medical school, and Gregory Colburn, a radiation oncologist, who is now being investigated by the medical board of California.

For those of us who are still in higher education, these indictments hit close to home. Although many question the value of undergraduate education, seeing its usefulness only as a certificate of validation, higher education is essential in medicine—not only in terms of medical training, but in how it shapes the way we treat and empathize with patients.

Currently, I am at my sixth university. Although one could say that I am a product of the system, there is more to higher education than most seem to realize. Pursuing an undergraduate education can be one of the most valuable experiences in life; however, in practicality, it feels broken. College is broken. As you can imagine, that starts at the admissions process.

Playing the Admissions Game

Combined, I have applied to 126 schools through seven application cycles and have been admitted to 11 schools total: one community college, four undergraduate universities, one transfer school, one master's program, three medical schools, and one PhD program. It's safe to say that I've written a lot of personal statements.

The admissions process misses the whole point of what universities allegedly stand for: creativity, design, deep philosophical thinking, and exploration.

If one thing is clear, getting into school today isn't about equality. It is about "playing the game." Of course, I only learned this after applying to loads of schools. The game is skewed to help those who know the system, who have someone who knows the system, or who are just plain wealthy. The game involves following unwritten rules; applying as early as possible; memorizing arbitrary words, formulas, and facts; learning how to excel at "standardization"; and getting others to lobby on your behalf. Whether you are brilliant or not, you must sell yourself on a 10- to 25-page application and pay some outrageous fees.

The admissions process misses the whole point of what universities allegedly stand for: creativity, design, deep philosophical thinking, and exploration. Universities were founded under the pretense of academic freedom, the idea that free thought, philosophy, and the advancement of deep intellectual thought should be taught and fostered. The idea was that intellectually hypothesizing, studying, and theorizing should be the formula to advance our understanding of the world around us.

Since the time of the first modern university, the University of Bologna, founded around the 11th century, we have lost that original intention. Universities are now designed as machines and run like businesses, with the goal of producing corporate workers. It all starts with admissions.

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