No one who has studied College Admissions over the last 30 years should be surprised that wealthy, well connected people are willing to spend huge amounts of money to get their children into schools where their grades and SAT scores place them far below the school average. In most instances, this is done relatively openly by negotiating a large donation into the school, a process, pioneered by Duke University, that journalist Daniel Golden calls “Developmental Admissions.” Reserving a few Admissions slots for children of donors and prospective donors has become normal university behavior There are few top universities that would refuse the opportunity to admit a student with a mediocre record like Jared Kushner, whose father was willing to gave a 2.5 million donation. Harvard was the school that admitted him, but most other Ivy League schools would have done the same.
It is an also an open secret that even larger numbers of slots at top universities are reserved for students who are expected to donate to the school themselves because they are likely to go into careers in finance. This is why every Ivy League school reserves at least 20 percent of their freshmen classes for recruited athletes. It is not because any one will pay to attend the games they play, but because Ivy League athletes are prime recruits for hedge funds and Wall Street banks. One year, according to one of my student researchers, 9 graduating Princeton lacrosse players went straight to Merrill Lynch. Those athletes are much more likely to be big donors than the math or physics students with perfect SAT scores who go on to be research scientists
It would be tempting to see the parents and coaches who participated in the current Admissions scandal as outliers in an otherwise meritocratic system. But there is nothing meritocratic about college admissions in the USA. Being wealthy gives you a huge advantage.