Where there is competition, there will always be players looking to gain an unfair advantage. If the recent Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal taught us anything, it is that people will do whatever it takes to win. Of course, most of us didn’t need to be taught that; the FBI probe merely confirmed what we already knew. People like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman aren’t the first to use their influence, money, and social capital to bend a system to their advantage, and they won’t be the last. In fact, when it comes to the college game, helicopter parents aren’t the only players prepared to do whatever it takes; universities are breaking the rules, too. Just recently, U. S. News & World Report revoked the University of Oklahoma’s ranking because of fraudulent data reporting—the university incorrectly cited increases in alumni giving since 1999. The “alumni giving factor” accounts for 5 percent of a school’s ranking score. Temple University’s MBA program had its ranking revoked in 2018 for intentionally providing false data with the intent to inflate its ranking. Other schools like Bucknell, Tulane, and Claremont McKenna have been similarly sanctioned for false data reports over the years. In a culture obsessed with rankings and prestige, it makes sense that schools would be vulnerable to such fraud. The U. S. News & World Report rankings rely on self-reported data, just like admission officers rely on self-reported profiles of applicants. In the same way that the University of Oklahoma fudged its numbers, and the Loughlin girls morphed into coxswains, schools can easily “photoshop” their data to appear more attractive and competitive. This doesn’t mean that college rankings are useless or that prestige is meaningless, but applicants need to take these measures with a grain of salt and look beyond the numbers when searching for their “right fit” school. It is easy to get sucked into the rankings and focus on the “best”—it is more important for applicants to focus on what is best for them.
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