Why the students from the college admissions scandal are still in limbo

Olivia Jade
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Operation Varsity Blues, also known as the college admissions scandal, has been slowly winding its way through court for six months now. September looms, and it’s time for kids to go back to school. But the students caught up in the fallout of a massive scheme to get rich kids into college are stuck in a state of limbo this fall. Until their schools decide to forgive them, expel them, or at least provide them with their transcripts, the young people whose parents paid their way to a higher education aren’t sure when or if they’ll be allowed to earn a degree.

Some of them, like Olivia Jade, the daughter of Full House actress Lori Loughlin, don’t seem to want to return to their prestigious places of learning, like USC, which enrolled a staggering percentage of the elite students under false pretenses. On August 11, after a long social media silence, she posted a selfie flicking off the camera, which many interpreted as a “fuck you” to the tabloids that have been chronicling her case.

But Loughlin and her daughters seem like they’ve been actively courting the glossies. On August 21, they appeared on the cover of People magazine behind a headline reading, “Secrets, Lies & Regrets.” The reality TV series pitch practically writes itself. And who needs a college degree when you can parlay your notoriety into a lucrative career as an influencer seeking redemption. Olivia Jade has the opportunity to document her origin story, as a star who could maybe one-day shine as brightly as Kim Kardashian, and we all know that KUWTK money gets you a staggering, monastic mansion in California if you want one. Who could even resist?

Not all the students being held hostage by USC are as lucky. Prosecutors have charged 51 people connected with the scam; four USC officials were accused of taking bribes, and more than half the parents who hired consultant William Singer tried to get their kids into the school. Around 20 students are going into the semester not knowing whether they’re still, technically, enrolled at USC. The faculty is in an uproar over the university’s handling of the case, saying USC hasn’t been transparent about who knew what about the bribes. The college is currently fighting a subpoena from a parent trying to access records of the students who might’ve gotten in because their parents paid their way.

Some schools have been more swift to take action. Yale and Stanford both rescinded admission offers. Georgetown expelled two students. In April, the New York Times revealed the identity of the prospective student whose parents had paid $1.2 million to get her into Yale. She is Sherry Guo, “a young woman from China who moved to Southern California for high school, and who was a freshman at Yale until last month, according to her lawyer, James Spertus,” the Times reported.

Spertus said the size of the payment showed that Singer was preying on immigrant families, who may be unfamiliar with the American college admissions process. According to court documents, the Guo family was introduced to Singer by an acquaintance in LA in 2017. He likely sold himself as a run-of-the-mill college advisor. The Guos say they thought they were making a donation to charity, as a gesture of goodwill alongside their daughter’s application. The court says Singer doctored Guo’s resume to make her look like a soccer star, then paid Yale’s soccer coach to draft her onto his team, ensuring early admission.

Hanna Stotland, an admissions counselor who has been hired by a few of the Operation Varsity Blues families to help their kids get back into school, said it’s totally unclear where the students might wind up. She told the New York Times she’d represented students suspended or expelled for sexual misconduct allegations, but the kids connected to the college admissions scam were “way, way, way tougher to place.”

She added that some families were considering sending their kids abroad, where they’d be considered as candidates more on their grades and test scores rather than notoriety. The scandal primarily affects the privileged children of 1%-ers after all, who can afford to send their kids to some foreign shore to dodge the paparazzi. But Stotland said, “I think I can safely say that for some of my families now, where the family is in crisis and parents may be going to jail, that it’s not — some of the families feel that it’s not a good time for one or more siblings to be 5,000 miles away even if educationally that might be a good solution.”