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Don’t Get the Varsity Blues

Don’t try to game the system to get your kid into college. That may lead to gun-wielding FBI agents storming your home. Instead, encourage your kid to become an applicant worth admitting. Get-It-Done Guy explains how.

By
Stever Robbins
Episode #542
Student sleeping in college class.

Scandal!

We just love scandal! And today, it’s a college admissions scandal. As Harvard Law School professor Michael Sandel points out in his book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, money is increasingly letting rich people to use their wealth to buy things—like college admissions—that used to be obtainable with other currencies.

In the good old days, you could be poor, but if you studied hard or did well at sports, it could lead you to a top college. Now it seems that rich kids can bypass the accomplishment route and crowd out everyone else by using their money to game the system.

In the current scandal, aptly called Operation Varsity Blues (don't ever say that the government lacks a sense of humor), rich parents hired a consultant to falsify their kids’ records and test scores, and bribe college coaches to say the kids should be admitted on athletic grounds.

The result: rich kids getting into elite schools they aren’t qualified for. And the highly-qualified kids who don’t have the money to bribe their way in? Well, they don’t matter, do they? Because they’re not rich.

Get-It Done Guy Was NOT a Rich Kid...

This is a big deal for me; I take it personally. I grew up lower-middle-class. For a little while my family lived in a trailer where I had three cubic feet of space for all my worldly possessions. I moved out at 15 and supported myself—barely—by programming computers. There were days I couldn’t afford to eat. My friends all knew my situation. I found out decades later that they and their parents would conspire to invite me over for homework. And if dinner happened to be served during a study break, of course I was welcome to join.

I studied my butt off. I worked super hard. I took classes at a local community college to help meet unfinished high school graduation requirements. 

…Who Succeeded on Merit

And ultimately, I ended up going to MIT for my undergraduate degree and Harvard Business School for grad school. I needed a lot of financial aid, plus a semester off to earn more money.

And it changed my life. It was the American Dream: With hard work, I got into top schools where I could get an education to give me the skills for success. 

In today’s world, we have the American Dystopia: A lazy rich kid who can’t make the grade (literally!) can use their parents' money to buy that spot instead of a kid who does the work to deserve it.

I worked super hard, I took classes at a local community college, and I ended up going to MIT and Harvard Business School.

How to Avoid the Varsity Blues?

If you’re not rich enough to buy your kids into a top college, there’s still a lot you can do. Heck, you can even do it if you are rich, but still have your morals. 

First: Don’t try to make them look good. 

Instead, make them actually be good. Help your kids get curious. Help them get good at learning. At science. At writing. At computers. At music. At math. At dance. At languages. At athletics. Long before the World Wide Web, my mother would take me to our local community college and we would watch filmstrips together on the lifecycle of frogs or cool science experiments. She got me a library card and taught me to go to the library to learn when I was interested in things.

Thanks to the internet, you can now do this from your own home. Sit down with your kids and help them find ways to explore their interests more deeply. I highly recommend encouraging them to read books. Paper books. Because research has shown that they’ll remember more and learn more from paper books.

Work with your kids to help them learn that with enough effort, they can master their work. Help them get and stay excited about learning. 

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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