August Academy's MBA Admissions Blog

Operation Varsity Blues!

A scenario that I face often:

“How can we get my son(/daughter) into Stanford!”

This is a question that I’ve been on the receiving end of, several times. Also, this is a question that I always receive with mixed emotions.

The reason parents want their children to get into top-ranked programs:

I feel empathy for the parents and their children. We, as a race, have successfully set up an artificial hierarchy that feeds on itself. The famous saying that “The rich get richer…” is not just true in real life, but also true of the university hierarchy. Colleges at the top attract the best students and the best faculty. As a result, they attract much funding from the industry. Because of this, said students and faculty get the opportunity to work on cutting edge research. A student who showed promise at entry has by the time of graduation become even more mature and well-trained.

The professional world welcomes them with open arms – because they’ve displayed the talent and the competitiveness to get into the world’s most elite schools, and have developed the expertise in their area of specialisation that they could have only achieved by attendance at the world’s Ivies. Every graduate of a top school has the potential to make it to the highest levels of career success. So this brings us to the other gift that such students graduate with – their “old boy’s (and girl’s) network,” which by the time they reach mid-career would include people at the highest levels of every conceivable area of life.

In today’s ultra-competitive world, credentialing is seen as something that can provide one with a leg up.

The desire to seek such privilege is, therefore, understandable.

When does this search become unethical?

However, parents desire such lives for their children even if their wards do no have the background (combination of scores, and extra-curricular activities) to get into a school of this calibre. So really – when they want to know how their kids can get into Stanford (or Harvard, or IIT Madras), what they want to know is if there is a back-door entrance that will allow their children to cut through due process and enjoy full privilege.

Operation Varsity Blues:

Till I heard the recent news about Operation Varsity blues (, I didn’t think anyone could do this. (As a loyal Stanford alum, I would like to include the note here that my alma mater has fired the corrupt official involved in the scandal – and I believe my university administration when they say this was a one-time occurrence). So, naturally, the fact that these parents would think that I would have enough clout to influence someone’s college admissions decision was amusing.

My feelings when I get asked this question – what power do I have/I wouldn’t do this even if I could:

While it may be a fact that I don’t have the power to influence anyone’s admissions decision, the very idea that someone would think I would do something like that even if I could fills me with indignation.

Finally, I’ve felt anger. I worked hard to get through some of these elite institutions. So to think that someone would consider it acceptable to get to the same place without putting in the same effort irks me.

The bigger problem: why do we subject our students through so much stress?

Regardless of my personal feelings, this is a problem that we, as a community, need to resolve for the betterment of all of our future students. While it is unethical to pursue and/or facilitate a back-door approach to a process that derives its attractiveness because it is competitive and fair, we also need to consider the fact that we are driving our students into a lot of pressure simply by subjecting them to this rat race. This is unnecessary in today’s context.

The move to a more sustainable future with a focus on education as opposed to credentialing.

A few decades ago, we might have only had a few institutions world-wide that were able to deliver world-class education, and therefore, opportunity. That is not the case anymore. We live in a world today where we have eminently talented people teaching at several universities across the world. Further, the work scenario today is such that major degrees are slowly losing their value, and instead, people are becoming more open to picking up micro- or nano- degrees to develop relevant skills in a focussed manner and continue this process of up-skilling throughout their careers.

A sustainable long term towards this is to try our best to remove the biases that people have towards credentialing.  It should be possible for anyone, studying anywhere to get a good education.

The biggest predictor for long term success is the “fire in the belly” quotient.  This is dependent on the student, not the institution they graduate from!

AIGAC and it’s official response on the matter:

I’m happy to be a part of AIGAC – the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. Please find AIGAC’s official response to the Operation Varsity Blues scandal here.

#collegeadmissions #mbalife #businessschools #operationvarsityblues

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