The millionaire who wanted to get involved

The college admissions bribery scandal reminded me of a story I once heard from someone who had exposure to the inner workings at prestigious universities. They shared that top administrators were (re-)introduced from time-to-time to multi-millionaire alumni who wanted to get “involved.”

And, whenever this happened, the odds were high that this alumnus had a kid who was 16 years old – in perfect time to influence admissions a year later when it would be illegal to do so. Of course, at top universities, 2 million wouldn’t get you in. It would just mean you get the marginal decision in your favor.

And, as the New York Times lays out, you can guarantee you are in the playing field by shelling out another 1.5 million for a 5 year package from “Ivy Coach.”  The Ivy Coach program guides kids from the 8th grade on the best ways to stand out via extracurriculars while also coaching them intensively on SATs.

Of course, bribery takes all this to a new, amusing or dark (depending on your point of view), level. The SB Nation article I linked to had a few powerful quotes. My favorite was –

When talking about the case, Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said, “We’re not talking about donating a building … we’re talking about fraud,” a statement that validates one way that rich people openly game the admissions system. What makes the acts fraudulent, apparently, is that the defendants tried to buy admissions in a way that is not allowed, not that they tried to buy admissions in the first place.

Privilege is powerful.

The truth about admissions and hiring

Thanks to the MBA learnings series, I’ve been hearing from many who’re going through the business school applications process. In these exchanges, I always try to make sure I share 3 points that I find helpful.

1. After a point, it becomes a crap shoot. I’d highly recommend taking a couple of minutes to read Seth Godin’s excellent post on ‘The truth about admissions‘. Here’s my favorite excerpt –

Worth saying again: In admissions, just as in casting or most other forced selection processes, once you get past the selection of people who are good enough, there are few selectors who have a track record of super-sorting successfully. False metrics combined with plenty of posturing leading to lots of drama. 

The winter and spring quarters are internship recruiting seasons here in school and it is easy to spot similar dynamics. I remember asking a friend how he thought HR picked cover letters out of a competitive pool. He imitated a person throwing a dart on the wall. That’s not to say it is completely random but, echoing Seth’s view, I think there’s a fair bit of pseudo science at play once you cross the threshold of competence.

2. It is a tough process and one that never fails to touch our insecurities (“Am I not good enough?”).  That’s just part of the process. We just have to expect it and be aware of it when it happens. In some ways, we’re always going to have such questions pop up when we ship. It gets easier when we’re shipping a product we designed vs. ourselves though. But, it is a worthwhile process and can be educational if we treat it as such.

The one thing that does help here is to be a bit self centered and just focus intensely on your own process. We’re all on different paths fighting different sorts of battles. Focus on what you need to do and make sure you ask for as much help as you need. These sorts of challenges are hardly ever overcome alone.

3. You only need one to work out. A close friend gave me this perspective and it is one that has stuck with me. Whenever we get started on a job search-like process, we always begin by pinning our hopes on a number of options. And, as these begin to disappear, we get disheartened. The only perspective we need to maintain here is that all it takes is for one to work out. Ideally, it’ll be the one we want. My experience has shown that it almost always is the one we need (and, every once in a while, the two intersect).

All the best. And, if I can be of help in any way through your search processes, do send me a note (rohan at rohanrajiv dot com) and I’ll do my best to be of assistance.