A scandal exposes the process of admission to elite colleges

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SAN FRANCISCO – Donna Balancia, a single mother, dreams of supporting her daughter at UCLA. She chose a very high rent apartment to take her to Beverly Hills High School. She hoped to give her the best chance to go to the college of her choice.

Once there, she would take her daughter to the UCLA tennis court to train, hoping to get noticed by the coach. Her daughter excelled as a university tennis and lacrosse athlete and averaged 3.9. But in the end, the SAT scores of teens were too low for UCLA or the University of Southern California.

"I've done crazy things, but nothing illegal," said Balancia.

The national college corruption scandal that broke out this week exposed the stress and sometimes desperation of many families as their children go through the ultra-competitive process of applying for admission to the country's top colleges.

The man at the center of the corruption scandal, William "Rick" Singer, a disgraced university consultant, is accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to pay for corrupt sports coaches and administrators. standardized tests to help the children of their clients to enter elite colleges.

He is accused of getting rich, taking advantage of concerns that have transformed tutoring and admissions counseling into a $ 1 billion university. From hiring tutors for $ 1,000 an hour to multiple admissions to coaching, sport promotion and community service, parents have been under pressure.

Coach-editor Cathy Altman is guiding college hopes in their admission trials, but parents have asked her – more than once – how much it would cost her to write the essay herself. Sometimes parents are more afraid than students to know which college they will attend, she said.

"Two years ago, a mother sent me an e-mail with the version of X with the one (the mother). Yikes, "said Altman by email.

Andrew Belasco, managing director of College Transitions, an Atlanta-based admissions consulting firm, said she was receiving inquiries from families with children as young as fourth and fifth grade.

"We tell these parents to call back," he said.

Gail Winthrop's mother of Manhattan Beach, Calif., Has followed the process three times and is preparing for the fourth time now that her youngest child is 16 years old.

"It's a terrible year. I will not lie. It's a really stressful, awful and awful year, "Winthrop said.

"It's a lot of pressure, but it's the pressure you feel for them," she said. "Because you want your childhood dreams come true."

She hired a consultant, Collegewise, to avoid harassing her children about their essays and applications, but said she could not imagine a parent who would use the measures described in the federal case in Boston this week.

Prosecutors said parents had paid Singer from 2011 last month to urge coaches and administrators to give bribes to make their kids look like star athletes to increase their chances of getting the money they need. enter the university. The consultant also hired members of the jury to take college entrance exams and remunerate insiders at test centers to modify student results. Parents spent between $ 200,000 and $ 6.5 million to guarantee the entry of their children, officials said.

In the affluent New Canaan, Connecticut, many parents who have attended Ivy League schools and are determined to follow their children are surprised at how much more competitive it is for this generation. to be admitted, according to Cynthia Rivera, head of the high school advisory service.

"It's something we often have to talk about and really work with them to understand that there are some very good schools. And we often talk about where the country's leaders have gone to university and how to think about it more broadly, "Rivera said.

The high school sometimes organizes career evenings during which the inhabitants of the city tell how they arrived where they are. Students are fascinated to learn about the tremendous success of people who have not attended one of the most prestigious schools, said Susan Carroll, coordinator of the school's college and vocational training center.

Balancia's 20-year-old daughter is studying to become a graphic designer at Santa Monica College. At one point she had considered moving to UCLA, said Balancia, but she is happy at the community college.

Balancia explained that her approach as an older mother was more casual than some of the young "helicopter" mothers she'd observed in Beverly Hills or that high-performing parents, trapped in the university scandal had "fallen into the trap" of wanting their child to stand out in their elite world.

"The problem is that we want what is best for our children and sometimes, the ego of parents takes over."

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