Operation Varsity Blue: The College Admissions Scandal


Murphy Eggers, Contributor

In March 2019, the biggest college admissions scandal was exposed and brought to an end.  This scandal involved America’s most elite and wealthy paying to get their children into the most prestigious universities around the country.  Recently, Netflix released a documentary called Operation Varsity Blue: The College Admissions Scandal, which followed the events of the scandal and how it was all pulled off.  

Rick Singer, the orchestrator of the scandal, is followed throughout the documentary showing his day-to-day life and conversations with his accomplices.  Most of the conversations that involved Singer are real conversations that were obtained through wire-tapping by the FBI.  

Singer designed a third “door” for students to get the acceptance they wanted outside of the preexisting doors.  First, the front door which would be applying directly to the university and hoping for admission.  The next direction that someone could take would be the back door which could be accomplished by donating money to the institution.  For example, naming a university library would be an option for a back door.  Now, those first two options are known and have been used for years.  Rick Singer created a third option that he called the “side door.”  The side door was an option which costs a fraction of what the back door would take to get admission.  

An essential characteristic of Singer’s operation was the guarantee that the front door and back door options did not offer.  During a conversation between Singer and Gordan Caplan, a client with a daughter seeking admission to a university, Singer noted that he has done over 700 side doors for families across the country.  When Caplan asked if this strategy worked for admission, Singer replied “every time.”

How did Singer actually execute these side doors?  The documentary explained multiple ways that Single was able to have success with getting acceptances.  In the case of Gordan Caplan, Caplan paid Singer to have his daughter’s ACT answers changed by the proctor before it was sent in.  It may seem like a simple scheme at first glance, but there were many elaborate pieces to the scheme that had to be arranged to decrease suspicion.  These included flying Caplan’s daughter to California to take the ACT and having her take a test that would allow her extra time on the ACT.  

Singer’s alternate path for side door admissions was through fabricated athletic recruitment.  Some of the universities that were involved with these events included Stanford, Yale, and University of Southern California.  The documentary illustrated another method for acceptance which involved Stanford’s sailing team.  The sailing coach at the time explained how students would get acceptance for sports they never even played.  One of the main ways Singer was able to accomplish this is sending a six-figure donation to the sailing team to send a message of what he was trying to accomplish.  

In addition to the Stanford sailing team, the Yale soccer program and USC crew were also involved in this massive scheme.  Singer’s relations with these schools and coaches were an extreme advantage that allowed him to fabricate stories about the students to get their admission.  As seen in the documentary, the parents of the students had professional photos taken of their kids pretending to take part in a particular sport.  Singer then would photoshop these pictures to make it look like they were legit athletes.  A discussion that was had in the documentary was about how these athletes went unnoticed because of the irregularities of the students on the athletics roster. 

One of the most notable families from the scheme was Lori Laughlin and her daughter Olivia Jade.  Laughlin, known for her role in Full House, paid Singer for a side door to get her daughter, Olivia Jade, into USC.  This family was under scrutiny for a large portion of the documentary because of the fame of the family.  Olivia Jade was known for her Youtube channel that followed her life where she shared information that brought suspicion among her advisors.  To start, the documentary talks about how Olivia Jade mentioned in one of her video blogs that she was not interested in school.  There was a lot of suspicion by her academic counselor because she was flagged by USC as a recruit for the crew team when in reality she was not involved in crew.  Laughlin’s husband addressed the skeptical counselor and essentially told him not to stand in the way of his daughter. Lori Laughlin was sentenced to two months of prison for paying Singer to do his side door.

This documentary was possibly one of the most eye opening topics that exposes the advantage the rich and famous have in the United States.  It also exposed university involvement in schemes that involve bribery. The documentary uses a mixture of acting and real accounts that provide unmatched engagement for the viewer. After an extensive investigation, over 50 people were charged with their involvement in the scheme.  Rick Singer has not yet been sentenced to jail time for his work, and there is no scheduled sentencing at this time.