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“Operation Varsity Blues” Reinforces Need for High Schools to Review Counseling Practices

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
How to evaluate and strengthen your school’s college counseling practices

In March 2019, the FBI revealed an investigation into a college admissions fraud and bribery scheme where parents either paid to alter their child’s SAT scores or falsified athletics credentials to gain preferential admission to eight elite universities. About 50 arrests were announced as a result of “Operation Varsity Blues,” including the alleged “ringleader,” a private college admission counselor who created the scheme, handled the altering of standardized tests, and funneled money to corrupt athletics coaches and administrators.

This scandal shines a spotlight on the need for K-12 schools to evaluate their college counseling practices. Your school should:

  • Audit requests for extended time on standardized admissions tests. Evaluate consistency with students’ known accommodation needs. Review anomalies, keeping in mind federal disabilities laws and privacy requirements.
  • Emphasize the importance of academic honesty and integrity throughout your school, not solely in academic assignments. Creating a culture of honesty will reduce the temptation to cheat. Emphasize these values with parents and students.
  • Examine inconsistencies counselors may discover, such as participation in an activity the student had not previously mentioned. Scrutinize any request to confirm a student-athlete’s status when the student does not participate in that sport.
  • Review your process for hiring and vetting proctors if your school is a testing site that provides them. Review test security protocol. Correct weaknesses. The College Board prefers students receiving test accommodations to test at their home schools, if possible.
  • Train school employees who provide students with admissions references. Outline appropriate behaviors and considerations for references. Provide information on how to report concerns about a student’s application or reference request.
  • Audit your college counseling office practices and procedures to ensure consistency in treatment of students and the security of school records.
  • Review your student discipline process regarding college applications. Does your requirement of academic honesty extend to admissions materials the student submits? Determine whether these rules and the process apply to college applications. If not, consider updating your student disciplinary process to expressly address college admissions.


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Additional Resources

The Haverford School: Honor Code

McLean High School: Honor Code

Harvard Graduate School of Education: Report on Admissions

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