The College Cheating Scandal Highlights The Different Paths Many Face Getting To College
When Denise Ocana heard the news the about the college admissions scandal, she wasn’t surprised. Ocana, 25, worked weekends at a swap meet with her parents to save enough money to attend UCLA, her dream school. Coincidentally, UCLA was one of schools embroiled in the the nation’s largest admissions scandal. Whether it’s working multiple jobs, studying long nights for the SAT or applying for endless scholarships, Ocana is one of many individuals that have to make every sacrifice possible to even have a chance of attending college.
While some were shocked to learn of reports that wealthy parents essentially paid to get their kids into elite schools, the news is a shot of reality. It’s also a glimpse into the two different playing fields people face when applying to their dream school. The scandal has started discussions about why factors such as donations and legacy status are part of the admissions process, which has traditionally benefited wealthier families.
The college admissions scandal reinforced the belief the process can be gamed by those with wealth and influence.
Like Ocana, Karla Estrada, 28, wasn’t surprised when she heard about the scandal. Estrada, a UCLA graduate, said it reaffirmed her belief that a portion of her classmates “got some help” in the admission process.
“It was common knowledge that some bought their way in but to have it confirmed was satisfying in a sense,” Estrada said. “But there’s some bitterness because it’s not fair to just have it handed it to them and have us have to fight for it.”
Estrada was an undocumented student which made getting any type of financial assistance nearly impossible. She worked full time to save for school and had no financial help from her parents. There was no federal aid available for her let alone enough scholarship money for her to pay tuition. For these reasons, Estrada had to find a sponsor to help her get enough money to attend school.
“We barely had enough money to eat let alone for school. I had to get sponsorship so I literally showed up to random companies to speak to their CEO to ask if someone could pay for my college,” Estrada said. “Lucas Oil and Lite Source ended up helping and because of them I was able to afford college.”
The scandal has started a discourse around affirmative action.
The admissions scandal highlights the racial and economic disparities that plague access to higher education. Yet when many students of color get access to these institutions, a stereotype follows them. The notion that affirmative action is the only reason they are there. At times they are accused of taking slots from white students just because of their ethnicity or race.
Izaak Ramirez, 27, disagrees with the notion that students of color get into college easier based on the color of their skin. Ramirez applied to seven colleges but didn’t get into UCLA, his dream school. He had to go the community college route despite having a 3.7 GPA in high school.
“It was overwhelming and I sat there and cried because of all the efforts I put forward felt wasted in a way,” Ramirez said. “Being a person of color or a Latino doesn’t automatically means you’re getting through that door.
Ramirez knows what accessing an elite school means in terms of getting a career and making a name for yourself. Grads of elite universities tend to earn annual salaries that are as much as 50 percent higher than all other college grads. That alone is worth making countless sacrifices to get themselves into these institutions.
Even during college things don’t get easier for many.
Ocana is currently in a graduate program at California State University, Northridge where she is pursuing a degree in Public Administration. Yet as she pursues the next chapter in her education, she is still reminded at times how hard it is to stand out at these institutions. Ocana says at times she feels she’s competing against the system and the admissions scandal reminds her how easy it is for some.
“No one’s surprised by the news and honestly it was just a matter of time before everyone knew,” Ocana said about the scandal. “If we all had the money to pay to get into college we’d all be here but what’s the pride in that. If my option was CSUN or USC , I’d still go to USC but that’s not how it works.”
Despite the advantages that some may have, hard work is something that will always be valued.
While the admissions scandal has shined a light on what’s wrong about the college application process, it’s also highlighted what’s good. For the number of those that try to cheat their way in, there’s more that are working harder just to get their chance.
Estrada is an example of this hard work. No legal status, limited financial help but a work ethic that few can match. Today, she is a immigration law & criminal defense paralegal trying to make a difference in her own community.
Despite the negativity the scandal has brought, Estrada hopes it starts a much needed conversation about the reality that so many Latinos and people of color have to endure in college.
“Sometimes we believe that we don’t belong here even though we have earned our seat in the classroom,” Estrada said “We have to constantly prove to the world we are good enough and then prove to ourselves. I say we are more than good enough.”