Long Island college advisers say they see parents who are just as obsessed about trying to get their children into a good school as the wealthy accused in Tuesday's college admissions scandal.
What begins with a parent's laudable goal — to do right by their child — can easily go too far, they said.
“I was appalled … but I guess I wasn’t so surprised these things happen,” said Jan Esposito of Commack, who has provided college admissions counseling to paying clients for 18 years. “It is an obsession — parents believe their child has to go to the best school possible. There’s a lot of peer pressure and parent pressure.”
Tony Moschella, an independent educational consultant in Northport, said he was approached three years ago by a lawyer who wanted him to help get an international student into college. Moschella offered to help the student polish his college admissions essay. The lawyer told Moschella that he was having someone write the essay for the student.
“That’s when I terminated the thought of working with this kid,” Moschella said.
College advisers said Tuesday that it’s easy for just about anybody to hang out a shingle and start offering advice on getting into the right college. In addition, there is little oversight, they said.
The 2,000 professionals who belong to the Independent Educational Consultants Association have been vetted, including a background check, and are bound by a code of ethics, said association CEO Mark Sklarow. But that is only a small part of the 10,000 people doing this work in the United States, he said.
Sklarow supports government licensing of independent educational consultants.
Prosecutors said 33 parents were charged in the case announced Tuesday. Charges were also leveled against top college coaches accused of accepting millions of dollars to help admit students to such prestigious schools as Yale, Wake Forest, and Stanford.
Moschella said the case reflects the desperate lengths that some parents will go to get their child into schools where the admissions process can be fiercely competitive.
Beyond that, Moschella said he worries about what will happen to a student who gains entry into a prestigious school through unethical means. The student may not have the academic skills to get through, he said.
Elizabeth Heaton, an adviser in Watertown, Massachusetts, lamented the message these parents pass on to their children.
“What does that say to your child? It says there’s no way you can do it on your own, so cheat and lie,” she said. “What could be a worse message for a child?”
Preparing a college application can be daunting, he said. Students often have to prepare essays as well as get letters of recommendation from teachers and others. Beyond that, Moschella said he works with students to find the right college and career path, what preparatory classes and courses they should take and what extracurricular activities would look good on their application.
College advisers can spend as much as a year or more working with students and their families. Costs can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, Moschella said.
The desperation felt by some college-bound students to get into a prestigious school led to arrests on Long Island in 2011. Twenty students from public and private schools on Long Island were charged with cheating on their college-admissions exam. Five of the students were charged with accepting money to take the test for other students. One accepted as much as $3,600 from one student and took the test for as many as 15 students, authorities said.
That local scandal helped spur widespread anti-cheating measures that require stronger photographic proof of students’ identities.
CORRECTION: Elizabeth Heaton is based in Watertown, Massachusetts. The location was incorrect in a previous version of this story.