Dr. Michele Hernandez has made a career of understanding the college admissions system, but she was also surprised at the details of the recent college admissions scandal that made headlines.
“I think the surprise was the depth and depravity of what the college consultant was doing, because he was rigging every aspect of the process,” Hernandez says. "What it showed is people are desperate to get their kids into top colleges."
Hernandez is a former Dartmouth College admissions officer and now runs Top Tier Admissions . It's a full-service college prep company. Tutoring packages can start as early as the eighth grade and can cost around $80,000.
"We don't go for the cheapest neurologist; we go for the best neurologist when we're trying to have a brain tumor removed," she says. "So, I think when people are looking for college consultants, who's the best at doing this? Who has insider knowledge? Who can actually help my student really become a better student and appeal to more colleges?"
She notes they typically sell out of spots available.
Hernandez has written several books pointing out problems with the college admissions process.
“The scandal, I think a lot of people have been woefully uninformed, even though there [have] been a million articles in college admissions about how it favors the wealthy," Hernandez says.
The former college admissions officer says a big problem is that half the spots available at many elite colleges are reserved for students with what she calls a "hook."
"The hook being recruited athletes, development cases, legacies, under-represented minorities and VIP kids," she says, "For example, an Obama or a Clinton. Notice how they always get into Brown, or Stanford, or Harvard? That's no coincidence."
Hernandez recognizes many are outraged with the scandal, but she says people need to look at the entire system.
"If people are going to have outrage, I wouldn't single out any one group,” she says. “I would look at the whole picture of 50 percent of the spots are taken and who they're taken up with.”
She says up to 20 percent of a college class can be recruited athletes and can give wealthy people an edge.
"Recruited athletes get in 80 to 100 percent acceptance rate at all the top colleges once they're recruited," Hernandez says. "A lot of athletes tend to be white. Not all, obviously. There are sports that are more integrated, but in general, people who do sailing and squash and those type of sports tend to be mostly white and affluent.”
She says schools reserve spots for lower income and under-represented minorities, but average families are the ones who often get overlooked, fighting for the remaining spots.
"What if you're a typical middle-class person who grew up on Staten Island, who goes to an OK public school? You're not disadvantaged, per se; those are the kids who fall through the cracks," Hernandez says.
As celebrity parents Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman face potential jail time for allegedly buying their children’s way into college, Hernandez says all parents need to keep perspective.
"If you start looking at head CEOs and people of companies, many did not go to these fancy schools, but yet, there is the perception among parents that their students will be tremendous failures if they don't gain admission to the school of their choice,” Hernandez says.