Is It Worth It?

By Kevin McMullin

The newswires—and the college admissions community’s social media posts—were filled yesterday with the breaking story of a 25-million-dollar scheme to help wealthy parents buy their kids’ way into highly selective colleges, including Yale, Georgetown, and USC. A well-known private counselor was charged with running the racketeering scheme, and several Hollywood celebrities were also included in the indictment.

And with every repost and every mention of this story, I kept wondering the same thing. Even to the most prestige-obsessed family, is this really worth it?

I don’t even mean from a financial standpoint, as the wealth of these parents, some of whom paid sums in excess of $500,000, clearly exceeds any pain of payment. But is it worth the risk-to-reward ratio?

Is it so important for some parents to see their kids attend a prestigious college that they’ll risk a federal indictment to buy a spot? Are they really comfortable setting the example for their kids that it’s OK to use your money to break the law to get what you want?

What drove them to take such an extraordinary risk? Was it the status symbol and bragging rights? Did they think it would be a family blemish to send their student to a less-famous college? Or did they generally believe that in spite of all the privilege bestowed upon their kids, they’d still be at a life disadvantage if they attended a school that didn’t land on the US News rankings?

College admissions combined with wanting the best for our kids breeds parental irrationality. But this is a level I just can’t get my head around.

So here’s my question to families: Are your current efforts worth it?

The SAT classes, the tutoring, the activities and coaching and guidance aimed at securing a better college admissions outcome–is it worth it?

I’m in the business of guiding families through this process, so clearly, I see value in all of those things. But the value will and should be different for every family. And more importantly, there should always be a line, a line where the family says, “We’re willing to do a lot of things, but we’re not willing to do that.”

I won’t prescribe where you should draw your line (at a minimum, please draw it long before you break the law). But I’d start by continually asking yourself, “Does this feel worth it?”

And if it doesn’t feel worth it, I’d listen to that instinct.