Scandals and Scholars


Alyssa Matias, who committed to USC in March, poses with her official letter of acceptance. Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Matias

By Julia Schuurman, News/Features Editor

“One New Email from University of Southern California” buzzed on Alyssa Matias’s iPhone screen as she sat at dinner with her grandparents. The month was March and college acceptance and rejection letters were rolling in across the nation.

As Matias, Div. 956, scanned the words before her, she immediately became overcome with emotion. She had been accepted into the University of Southern California (USC), a prestigious private school in Los Angeles with an acceptance rate of 11%.

At the same time, a college and university scandal like no other was beginning to unfold before the country. In late March, the U.S. Education Department notified eight universities that they were under investigation for possible violations of federal financial aid laws.

The Department of Education sent letters to the presidents of Yale, Wake Forest, University of San Diego, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and USC.

According to the New York Times, 33 parents have been charged in connection with crimes involving the admissions scandal.

Some parents paid $15,000 to $75,000 per test to have someone from Edge College and Career Network, a for-profit college prep business, take the SAT test for their child. One unnamed family even paid $6.5 million to get their child into a school through the recruitment scheme, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, students like Simran Katyal, Div. 980, are receiving full ride scholarships through academic merit and need programs like Posse to attend college practically for free.

After her third interview with Posse as a finalist, Katyal received a call from the organization congratulating her on her match with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Posse partner school.

“It was amazing. It just made me realize how much better things were for me just because of all that money that I didn’t have to worry about,” Katyal said.

Nevertheless, reports of bribes and corruption continue to surface as court dates draw closer.

Stephen Semprevivo, the father of a junior attending Georgetown, paid a $400,000 bribe to secure a seat for his son at the university, according to the LA Times. The student, Adam Semprevivo, is now suing Georgetown for the right to transfer his credits.

For students like Nia Muhammad, Div. 953, who were receiving decision letters as the news of the scandal first broke, the anticipation grew to be unnerving.

“When I first heard about it I thought it was really funny because it just shocked me that people didn’t know that this was occuring,” Muhammad said. “Then I started thinking about it and I thought, ‘If these kids paid their way in, that’s a spot that could have been for me.’ That really made me upset.”

The scandal broke exactly a week before Matias received her decision letter from USC — one of the schools at the center of the scandal. The same seat that Matias earned through merit at USC could just as easily have been bought away from her.

“It honestly made me feel really good about myself,” Matias said. “I got in based off of merit, not because my mother donated money.”

Among the parents involved in the scandal were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Loughlin had paid $500,000 for her daughters Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose to be admitted to USC through a recruitment scheme.

Before the scandal broke, Olivia Jade had posted a video to her Youtube channel where she admitted, “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend, but I do want the experience of game days and partying. I don’t really care about school.”

Meanwhile, Muhammad is looking forward to taking organic chemistry at Stanford next fall with aspirations to become an Obstetrician-Gynecologist.

Matias will be majoring in political science at USC on a pre-law track.

Katyal’s Posse scholarship has guaranteed her a full ride at UW-Madison where she will be majoring in business.

Nevertheless, the headlines of possible jail sentences gave Matias hope that justice can be served for future graduating classes.

“It just made me realize that I do have a place at this school, even though it may seem like I don’t,” Matias said.