Recently, I watched the Netflix documentary – Operation Varsity Blues: The college admission scandal. After watching this documentary, I am stunned with the way this scandal was carried out. I had always heard of scandals and frauds in banking ( like Wall street – Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme), government ( Watergate), and mostly in Hollywood high profile scandals.
But this one in the field of education is something rare. Maybe becuase there is already a way to enter the college which is known as ‘back door policy’ where any interested student for an elite college can gain admission after making a hefty donation to the college or university. But what Rick Singer ( who is accused of carrying out this admission scandal) did was to open a ‘side door’ by faking the students profile with fake SAT or ACT test scores, and even wrongly displaying to the admissions team about being an athletic recruit. It has been covered nicely in this documentary and it sheds light on this obsession of parents to use any illegal means to make their kids get into the elite schools, by using their money and Rick’s ponzi scheme.
But apart from such admission scandals, what bothers me more is this hype to get into elite colleges and universities. In USA, be it Harvard, or Stanford, or in India, be it IIT and IIM ( Thank God, I haven’t heard any admission scandal in IIT or IIM so far). I can understand that it is very natural for anyone to aspire to get into such top colleges, as they have proven over time and with their thousands of successful alumni, that its indeed one of the life’s changing experiences to enter and graduate from such Ivy league colleges. The right kind of networking, amenities, professors, courses, and the charisma these universities have often sets the life of those students who study and pass out of these colleges, which truely makes them a part of an elite group, even though exceptions always exists.
But the most important part is not everyone can get into such colleges. Only the competent, intelligent and deserving gets into. The admissions process is highly selective and that’s why it isn’t easy for all to get into it. But still the students and their parents are obsessed with such admissions, and hence, they try super hard to get into these elite institutions. That includes spending the entire high school years in just studying, with no other personality development, paying millions for tuition, coaching and career counselors, working hard to score maximum in test scores ( SAT, IIT entrance etc).
And after all the above copious efforts, if the student fails to get into his/her desired college, then the depression and stress the entire family goes through is very disturbing. I had tried to crack the IIT entrance exam a decade before, and couldnt do it. I remember it took me quite sometime to get rid of the depression and sadness which often comes along with such failures. Infact, it also led to a sense of loss in self-worth which is very detrimental for a 18 year old who has not even reached his legal age for almost doing anything in the world. But I was lucky to have got into a good college later, and soon came out of the sadness. But not everyone is lucky. Many students cannot bear the pressure and this loss of self-confidence compels them to take extreme steps, like suicide.
While this is the dark side behind the rat race for college admissions, but cheating and bribing( using side door) to secure an admission is even more perturbing. Because not only its illegal but also it undermines the hard work and efforts of all the good students and their parents, who have been burning the midnight oil to clear the tough exams and get admission through legal way ( also known as front door). The actions of those who had bribed and tried to undermine the credibility of the admission process is culpable and those people should be sent to jail. ( But the netflix documentary shows that Rick Singer is still a free man, while others have been sentenced to mere 4 months or even 14 days of jail sentence)
Also, it makes me wonder if the college education after all deserves so much attention? Do the graduates from such elite colleges really change the world? I know many famous engineers, businessman and politicians have studied in such elite universities. Barack Obama is a Harvard law school almuni, and so did Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg went to Harvard. Many Nobel laureates and scientists are from MIT, Stanford and Harvard. England’s most of the politicians have PPE degree from Oxford. IIT’ians are known to be the most successful professionals in India and USA. Infact, Wall Street and Silicon Valley is filled with IIT and USA Ivy league graduates. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google is both an IIT Kharagpur alumni and has M.S from Stanford, along with an M.B.A from Wharton school, University of Penn. All such famous personalities are inspirations to millions of students and young professionals like me. Even parents who themselves couldn’t get into such colleges, for reasons whatsoever,dream of their kids getting into such elite colleges, and thereby becoming the future Sundar Pichai’s or Mark Zuckerburg’s.
There is nothing wrong in this dream. But it is important to understand that this is not the only way for success in career and life. Often, we misinterpret their success to their elite colleges. We think they became successful because they graduated from those universities. This is where the real problem is. Rather it is their intelligence, their hard work and their passion to make a contribution to the world which has led them to the pinnacles of success. Their degree, and the elite Ivy league college is just a launchpad for their career. It is like a booster similar to rockets which provides them the required thrust to begin their career and enable them to work with the similar kind of people ( who also have graduated from such colleges). So, in short, apart from networking and initial boost for the career, the elite colleges dont play much role later in their life. Whatever high accomplishments these people achieve is due to their hard work and perseverence.
Also, not every successful person is from Ivy league college. Infact, many of the famous and successful people did not study in elite colleges or not even attend a four year college. Steve Jobs who actually changed the world, dropped out from a non-Ivy league college. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg dropped out of Harvard. Narendra Modi, the current PM of India does not have a four year degree, but rather gained his education from distance learning courses. Kalpana Chawla, did not have an IIT degree and still became the first Indian woman astronaut. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, does not have a degree from IIT and still could become the CEO. Many successful entrepreneurs and politicians in the world have a degree from a not so famous college. Infact, Peter Thiel even started a fellowship with a $100000 grant for anyone who would skip 4 year college and rather work on some novel startup idea. One of the famous Indian who got this fellowship is Rishabh Agarwal, who is the CEO and founder of Oyo.
While on the other side, Rahul Gandhi went to Harvard ( through back door policy indeed), and he is nothing but a laughing stock in India. Rajat Gupta, convicted for securities fraud, had gone to IIT Delhi and Harvard. Jeff Skilling, the infamous CEO of Enron, who led one of the worst scandals in American business before 2008 sub-prime crisis was a Harvard business school graduate. And the major players on Wall Street who articulated the sub-prime crisis and profited millions in bailout package bonuses, includes Hank Paulson ( Harvard Business school(HBS)), Ben Bernanke( Harvard, MIT), Tim Geithner( Dartmouth), Lloyd Blankfein( Harvard) and Jamie Dimon (HBS).
Hence, going to an elite college is not the only way to become rich, successful and famous ( or infamous). But this does not mean that 4 year college education is not needed. If we want to persue a career in science, research, medicine and govt service, then having a college degree is a paramount. To have a a stable job, be it in private firms or govt office, college education is a must. Even though online courses like coursera, udemy and distance learning have grown manifold, yet the importance and acceptability of college education is not going to subside. But whats important is that going for elite college is not needed. It is just a hype, a social thing which the world gives so much unnecessary attention. I would say, anyone, be it a simple middle class student, or even someone who cannot afford an elite college education, it is possible to become successful in life by attending a decent yet good university, and really work hard to achieve their dreams in life. No dream can remain unfulfilled if the intention is strong and efforts are 100%.
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