‘Operation Varsity Blues’ reveals the flaws within college admissions

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Netflix [Fair Use]

Netflix’s “Operation Varsity Blues” details Rick Singer’s involvement in U.S. college admissions scandals.

Kate McElhinney, News Editor

Netflix has decided to stray from its usual nature-oriented documentary selection, creating its newest film, “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal.” With reenactments of wired phone calls and a plethora of interviews, the documentary uncovers some shocking issues within some of America’s most prestigious universities.

The docudrama focuses on Rick Singer, who accepted over $25 million in bribes in an attempt to help the students of wealthy parents gain entry into top-tier colleges. Though Singer has been charged with multiple accounts of bribery, fraud and tax evasion, he has yet to see jail time or even stand trial for his actions. Why? Because he gave crucial info to the FBI that incriminated over 50 well-known names and faces in America. 

The film describes in detail the ways that Singer managed to get ‘average’ students into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, USC and other highly ranked universities. Certain scenes within the film feature clips of real students opening their college acceptance and rejection letters. Seeing the heartbreak of students who were denied admission to their dream school makes the scandal all the more infuriating. After completing the college application process and experiencing the heartbreak of rejection firsthand, I can understand their pain. The discovery that certain students were unlawfully accepted to top-tier colleges solely because their parents had the financial means to cheat the system shows just how greedy some of these institutions are, and it sends an unfortunate message to students who hope to gain acceptance based on merit alone.

Standardized testing and sports, or often both, were the two key methods Singer used to get students into colleges through what he called the “side door.” Students who excelled in sports but struggled academically would have someone else take the ACT or SAT for them, allowing them to achieve whatever score they wanted. Students with good grades but mediocre athletic performance were given a phony athletic resume in which their faces were photo-shopped onto stock photo pictures of other people participating in their chosen sport, normally rowing, crew or soccer. Parents would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Singer, who would then donate money to athletic programs at universities to allow those students to attend.

The film is somewhat of a hybrid between a documentary and a movie, with interviews from admissions representatives, former clients of Singer and even Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, who was deeply involved with the scandal, as well as reenactments of the conversations Singer had with his clients. The constant switching between actors and real people was a bit hard to keep up with at times. I would’ve preferred either a normal documentary or a ‘based on a true story’ type of film; the reality show style they used was just confusing and overdramatized.

Honestly, it’s disgusting that some students weren’t able to get in on merit alone because people bought their way in. It seems like there’s some new scandal every year regarding Ivy Leagues and other pretentious universities. Though ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ could have delivered the message better, the insight it gave into the flawed world of college admissions is priceless.