I’m gathering from my feed that this whole college admissions scandal is really shocking to a lot of people.
Well, sit down, babies, because I’m about to deal you a hard blow.
This is nothing.
I think a lot of people seriously have no idea how thoroughly the system is rigged. I spent several years as a for-hire writer who couldn’t afford to turn work away. This means I accepted a lot of jobs I feel icky about now, but it also means that I’ve seen firsthand how this all shakes out.
(Important note: There is not a single person on my friends list who I am referring to with any of what I’m about to write. Also, I stopped taking the type of work I'm going to describe years ago. So if I’ve ever helped you with written material, or if I'm currently helping you: this does not apply to you.)
See, getting little Asshole McGloatyFace III into Harvard is just the first domino en route to prestige and pedigree. That’s why it’s so important; the first domino starts the chain. The richest of rich parents get him there by donating a library collection or buying a building. The middling rich, like those in today’s story, cheat (and don’t for a single second think the people indicted today are the only ones, because they are not, not, not).
The lowly rich hire people like me to write their kids’ essays and letters, pull together their resumes, and figure out how to make years of abject mediocrity sound good. And they don’t only hire people like me. They also hire special tutors and test prep gurus to teach their kids to hack the tests. They pull strings to get their kids special accommodations they don’t need, so they have more time to get all the math problems done on the SAT. They get interview coaches who teach their kids what to say when they go for their appointment. They lean on connections to get Harvard and Yale take a "second look" at their C+ student with a 980 SAT score. These kids get a complete team, and the face Asshole McGloatyFace presents to the Ivy isn’t his own; it’s a composite of all the best expertise his parents’ money could buy.
When Asshole McGloatyFace is in school, his parents hire people like me again. Want to know how many papers I’ve written for undergraduate students? Graduate students? I couldn’t even tell you. It’s a higher number than I can remember offhand. Need a magic paper to save your grade in the class you’re failing? Need to save your half-assed thesis? I’ve done it all. I’m a better-than-average writer and I made my clients look good.
All this work goes into making sure Asshole McGloatyFace graduates from an Ivy, because graduating from an Ivy—combined with the connections of Mom and/or Dad—means he gets internships at the best companies and firms. It means he gets interviews, even if his GPA is sub-3.0. It means he gets the best jobs when he graduates. He’s still an idiot, but now he’s an idiot earning high-five or low-six figures.
This is when the next dominos start to fall. Asshole McGloatyFace’s company is going to get him an executive coach. Because he has the right name and the right degree and the right presentation, so he’s tagged as executive material, and they’re going to start grooming him now so he doesn’t make them look stupid later. The coach is going to teach him how to present himself, what photos to put in his office, what suits to wear and how to accessorize. If Asshole is a man, the coach is going to teach him how to open large meetings with a sweet, humanizing story about his family, especially his kids. If Asshole is a woman, the coach is going to teach her how to be brusque with a smile and never talk about her family under any circumstances, especially not her kids.
Along with the executive coach, Asshole is also going to be assigned a mentor, someone accomplished and probably equally prestigious. The role of the mentor is to help Asshole McGloatyFace to meet the right people, form the right connections. The mentor is going to take Asshole McGloatyFace to events and make sure he knows all the power players in their city.
The coach, mentor, and senior-ups are going to guide Asshole McGloatyFace to volunteer and charitable giving opportunities. Not just any volunteering and charitable giving, but those that are well-aligned to Asshole’s decided-upon Personal Brand (TM). Asshole is going to learn how to give lots of money and make it known, without appearing to brag about it. Asshole is also going to get seated on the best non-profit boards in his city. Some of these are competitive. Want to know how I know that? Because they require an essay, resume, and bio. And guess who writes those.
So now Asshole is rubbing elbows with even more movers and shakers, and is establishing a high-quality Personal Brand (TM). At this point, Asshole has been promoted a couple times and is earning low-mid six figures.
Buckle in, because here’s where lots of dominos start to fall.
At this point, Asshole’s bio features an impressive school, an impressive job at an impressive company, impressive volunteer positions, impressive philanthropy, impressive Personal Brand (TM). This is enough to earn Asshole consideration for a whole host of things most average people have absolutely no awareness of. He’s going to apply for and be named one of his city’s “40 Under 40” and get a spread in a local, glossy magazine*. He’s going to apply for and get a position in his city’s “Up and Coming Young Leaders” program, and be interviewed on TV. He’s going to apply for and win a spot in his city’s “Wealthy People Pretending To Do Good But Really Just Hanging Out With Other Wealthy People” initiative, and get newspaper coverage.
I’ll give you one guess who writes those applications.
(*Note: I'm not shitting on "40 Under 40." Some folks make it on there for genuine charitable good deed, which is awesome.)
By now Asshole’s been promoted again. He’s in his 40s, maybe 50s, and is earning high-six figures, and it’s time to go for the jackpot.
Asshole has now built all the right credentials to apply for a position on a for-profit board. He probably won’t get the first one, and maybe not the second, but he’ll get the third or fourth. How quickly he gets picked up will have a lot to do with how well he’s nurtured his connections and how fondly people remember his parents, who are now elderly or dead. He’s going to link up with a Fortune 500, be named to their board, and pull in a seven-figure paycheck for turning up once per quarter to listen to updates from the CEO and make management decisions.
He’ll need a resume, bio, and compelling personal letter to make this happen. Check, check, check.
Asshole is now making millions of dollars per year, earning millions more on a board, and, as a loving parent, is guiding his own children through the exact same process.
This is how it works. This is why The Right University is so important. It’s not about the degree. It’s about this entire life path, this entire system of manipulation and prestige, to make sure the children of the uber wealthy become the next generation of the uber wealthy, that they get exclusive opportunities and exclusive consideration.
Every single step along this journey, there are other people clawing for the same opportunities but not getting them. Those people didn’t come from the right parents, or graduate from the right schools. Their applications weren’t as good, because they wrote them themselves, and most people (sorry, y’all, but it’s true) do not write nearly as well as they think they do. Their bios weren’t as perfect, because they didn’t have executive coaches and mentors to help them establish a fine-tuned personal brand. Their ideas weren’t as interesting, because they were working with their own stupid ideas and not the ideas of professional idea-havers.
THE WHOLE SYSTEM IS RIGGED, YOU GUYS. It is rigged. Maybe you went from lower class to middle class, or lower middle class to upper middle class, and you feel like FUCKIN A I LOVE AMERICA AND BALD EAGLES AND MERITOCRACY, but it’s all an illusion. Even if you financially make your way into the nouveau riche layer of the upper class, you still won’t be one of the chosen unless you manage to hit some kind of insanely unlikely lottery (Barack and Michelle Obama come to mind), but you’re honestly more likely to get bit by a radioactive spider and start shooting web-shit from your wrists. The upper class is a closed system, thanks but no thanks, no vacancies, don’t let the door hit ya.
I’ve taken jobs from 40-something year old men who handed the telephone to their daddies to talk about how to craft the right impression in their adult child’s “personal” letter. I’ve worked with executive coaches to hash out what jokes to write in order to best illustrate the “good humor” part of someone’s Personal Brand (TM) in a “personal” essay. THAT is how this works.
There’s no such thing as meritocracy.