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Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal

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The largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice broke on March 12, 2019, sending shock waves through American schools and families. In Unacceptable, veteran Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz trace the wiretapped calls, covert payments, and blatant deceit that brought the feds to Beverly Hills mansions and Upper East Side apartments, their residents all linked by one man: college whisperer and ultimate hustler Rick Singer.

The shocking tale at the heart of Unacceptable is how, over decades, the charismatic Singer easily exploited a system rigged against regular people. Exploring the status obsession that seduced entitled parents in search of an edge, Korn and Levitz detail a scheme that eventually entangled more than fifty conspirators--a catalog of wealth and privilege that included CEOs, lawyers, real-estate developers, financiers, and famous actresses, mingling in jail cells and courtrooms.

Detailing Singer's steady rise and dramatic fall, woven with stories of key players in the case, Unacceptable exposes the ugly underbelly of elite college admissions as a game with no rule book--paid-off proctors and storied college coaches turning a blind eye, helicopter parents and coddled teens spinning lies--opening loopholes and side doors into America's most exclusive institutions.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published July 21, 2020

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Melissa Korn

2 books4 followers
Instagram: @melissashira
Twitter: @melissakorn

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 90 reviews
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,293 followers
July 31, 2020
To an outsider (Canadian) like me, the United States college admissions system is bizarre. First there’s the byzantine distinctions between community colleges, state schools, private colleges … as opposed to Canada, where university and college have distinct meanings. It’s not just the vise-grip of the standardized testing agencies on students’ futures … it’s the whole ranking system, the prestige, and the intense competition among post-secondary schools for money and athletes. As an educator, I look at this with no small amount of fascination. So when the 2019 college admissions scandal broke, I immediately knew I would be reading the inevitable book(s) that followed. Every few months, I checked to see if I could get a hint of a book in the works. Imagine my surprise when, last weekend, my search revealed that Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz’s Unacceptable had just been published. Not only that, but it was available to read on NetGalley without requiring approval! (So yes, disclosure: I got this book for free in exchange for a review.)

Unacceptable starts with a cast of characters, the sprawling length of which is our first hint at the astounding scope of this scandal. As Korn and Levitz emphasize throughout the book, this scandal is notable not just for the amount of money that changed hands but for its breadth. This wasn’t a handful of parents and one or two institutions. This affected schools across the entire country, and the list of defendants is lengthy indeed.

The star of the show, if this show indeed has a star, would of course be Rick Singer. This is where Korn and Levitz begin, with your typical exposition of Singer’s early days: his small private counselling ventures, his other businesses, his marriage and his divorce, and then his return to private counselling in the form that would lead to this scandal. Singer has many of the classic traits of the con artist; in particular, he gets a gambler-like thrill from “winning” his game. Yet that’s one of the most intriguing things about this story: it’s not your typical confidence game. Singer wasn’t scamming parents by promising to get their kids into college, then absconding with his money. No, this was much worse: he was actually getting their kids into college in exchange for large sums of money.

This was unadulterated capitalism in its finest form.

Singer was running a business, plain and simple. He had all manner of packages for parents to choose from. Some were legitimate, straightforward private counsellors who advised kids about their applications. Other routes were less legitimate: cheating on standardized tests, faking athletic profiles, and greasing the wheels through hefty donations to coaches. It’s not that these parents were buying their kid’s spot—although, in a way, they were—but they were paying to obtain their kid a spot through, as Singer pitched it, “the side door.”

Reading this book, it’s really hard not to conclude that the college admissions system is broken. As Korn and Levitz carefully tease out, Singer is not really a mastermind so much as an opportunist: he didn’t create these flaws in the system; he merely exploited them. Don’t get me wrong: Singer is totally culpable. But when you read Unacceptable, you understand why the Attorney General’s office chose to flip Singer and target the parents (and coaches) rather than just shut down his operation, prosecute him, and call it a day. Singer was a symptom of a larger problem.

Getting to follow this whole story from beginning to the arrests, hearings, and sentencing is one of the best things about this book. Korn and Levitz provide context to the prison sentences for high-profile defendants like Felicity Huffman. They interpret and explain the judge’s rulings, helping us to understand why some defendants received prison time while others only received probation. Along the way, Korn and Levitz emphasize that prosecutors were wrangling with an optics problem: they didn’t want to be seen as “going easy” on wealthy defendants; yet the defense lawyers charged that this meant they did the exact opposite. We also get to find out what happened to many of the kids caught up in the scandal too!

As a result, Unacceptable provides more than just the juicy details of the scandal. It begins with the story of a single man’s attempt to make a slightly dishonest living and ends with the story of a frayed and flawed justice system grappling with its inability to quantify loss in this situation. Not only does this book expose flaws in the college admissions system, but it also shines a light on limitations the US justice system.

Above all else, Korn and Levitz do their best to render their subjects fairly and in a very human way. Singer is not an evil mastermind. Huffman and the other parents are not evil rich people. Neither is anyone an innocent victim here. They knew what they were doing was wrong, and perhaps even illegal, yet they persisted because they believed it was necessary for their child to gain entry into a prestigious institution.

At times, I found the prose a little too stylized for my liking. They overuse the phrase “well-heeled” to describe the wealthy defendants at the heart of the case. Similarly, they spend a fair amount of time describing what these defendants wore to each hearing (though, I should mention, they do this for men as well as women, which is a nice departure from the sexist obsession with describing what women of interest are wearing but ignoring men’s appearances). I understand that this helps to humanize them and also emphasizes their state going into each hearing … but it always rubbed me the wrong way as I read. So it goes.

Unacceptable highlights cracks in the system. More than that, though, it provides a concrete example of how the growing wealth disparities in the United States create a cocoon of privilege that distorts how the wealthy view opportunity and status. While some of the parents pleaded guilty and even fewer truly understood the severity of their crime, the fact remains that Singer had no shortage of clients. For a certain echelon of American parents, this was simply the way it is done—at least, that’s what Singer liked to emphasize. Korn and Levitz delve deep into the details of so many facets of this story. For me, however, that was the enduring takeaway, and it’s what we need to change if we want to avoid more people like Singer opening the side door.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Ti.Me.
539 reviews12 followers
August 17, 2020
A finely-detailed account of the star-studded college admissions scandal of 2019. The world saw tantalizing bits and pieces in the news. Levitz and Korn's Unacceptable fills in all the blanks.

5 stars
Profile Image for Lisa Roberts.
1,537 reviews
September 23, 2020
Rick Singer is a schmuck. The Varsity Blues scandal and the famous people who got wrapped up in it are fairly well known.. I knew a lot of what happened at USC, Stanford, Wake Forest, Yale, Georgetown, UCLA and the test taking cheaters, the athletic photo shopping, etc. that took place, but this book tells the whole nasty story of the parents who were willing to lie and cheat and commit crimes to get their pampered, darling high school children into these colleges.

The beginning of the book goes into the life of Rick Singer, the liar who pleaded guilty to multiple felonies. He was a liar from the beginning. I didn't realize the extent to which he lied about his own education and wrote student's essays making up parents, community service, athletic participation, income, etc. He is despicable.

The parents who donated huge sums of money, hired SAT/ACT test takers, provided photos of their kids to be photo shopped, are just as culpable.

This happened up down California but mostly in prestigious Los Angeles and surrounding San Francisco high schools. There are likely other Rick Singers out there doing the same thing on the east coast.

The FBI sting that happened in March of 2019 was well orchestrated so that each of Singer's clients got a knock on their doors at the very same time early in the morning. I remember this well as we were touring one of the affected schools, Wake Forest, the day of the sting.

Most of parents have been sentenced to some, but little prison time as well as paid fines. Singer has yet to be sentenced as recently was taking classes at Grand Canyon University to complete a degree in psychology. He is such a loser.

Just last month, a federal judge sentenced Lori. Loughlin, one of the best-known defendants in the college-admissions scheme, to two months incarceration after imposing five months in prison on Mossimo Giannulli.

This was a fascinating look at the whole case and how things spiraled and Springer grew more bold working with college coaches. Most of the colleges were unaware of what was happening and have since instituted changes especially for athletic admissions.

This books reminded me of Bad Blood Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup in that at the center is a conniving, selfish, money hungry criminal.
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,567 reviews102 followers
March 22, 2021
Fascinating, briskly paced, thoroughly reported account of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. I followed news of the raids closely, but I didn't know much about the court procedures, so those were especially interesting to me.

My favorite parts were when the author focused on the actual people who were in stolen pictures. (The fraudster and his team sometimes stole photos of athletes—a pole vaulter, a water polo player, and some others—and claimed those were the photos of the rich kids who were applying for admission as athletes.) The pole vaulter lived in a tiny town and went to a rural school. He worked so hard to succeed, but he wasn't recruited or even scouted because college coaches hardly ever visit rural schools to look for talent. The water polo player is grinding it out in community college, hoping to go to a four-year school someday. So they will probably never be famous athletes, but at least they got acknowledged by name in a book and we readers got to learn about and appreciate them.

I was also interested to find out who got probation instead of being sent to the pokey. The one coach who didn't personally benefit from the bribes got that deal. He took the bribes, but he gave every penny to the Stanford sailing team. (I find it hard to believe that Stanford is ever hurting for money in any area, but whatever, I guess that coach really loved the sailing team.) And the one parent who didn't try to write off the bribe as a donation got a probation deal too. He paid $15K for a fraudulent test score for his kid, but he paid in cash and that was the end of it.

One of the presiding judges treated parents who drew their children into the fraud more harshly than parents who insisted that their kids never be told. That makes sense to me.

One of the parents decided not to proceed with the deal because he asked a tennis coach where his "donation" would go—scholarships, equipment, travel, etc.—and the coach said, "Well, coaches gotta eat." You, sir, are too stupid to solicit a bribe, even though you coach at Georgetown.

This book features brief appearances by a Hot Pockets heiress (who committed fraud and then tried to act like she didn't) and the heir to a fish-stick fortune (who was a judge assigned to many of the cases). People thought the fish-stick guy would give probation to the rich defendants because he would feel sympathy for them because of all his fish-stick money. NOPE.
Profile Image for Luke.
15 reviews
July 4, 2022
A devastating account of the brokenness within American college admissions, particularly within the nation’s most wealthy and exclusive schools and the extraordinarily wealthy participants in the largest admissions scandal ever recorded.
Profile Image for Ev.
95 reviews57 followers
January 25, 2021

It has been said that no news is good news. But when bad news comes calling, Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz have proven they are expert operators in truth and transparency.

These authors present the kind of reporting rarely seen in an age when news is no longer reported but manipulated into 140-character Tweets and social media platforms that promote flashy headlines and trendy sound bites but lack the factual substance of information that makes books like this one paragons of objectivity and authentic journalism.

Much like two of the best and extensively researched true crime accounts, Helter Skelter and The Devil In The White City, Unacceptable is filled with a plethora of details that, in this instance, dots every i and crosses every T when it comes to the descriptions of people involved and how they connect to every event that leads up to the heart of the case, the concise time periods, and the thorough elaboration of the how and why the crime was committed. Both reporters allay readers’ curiosity of the who, what, when, where, and how before they even have to ask.

For those who like their news mindless, short, and Tweet, the mainstream media is for you.

For the rest of us who want unfiltered information from unbiased sources we can trust, paying attention to any lesser quality of journalism than the kind exhibited by Ms. Korn and Ms. Levitz is unacceptable.
Profile Image for Lisa Konet.
2,101 reviews10 followers
May 30, 2020
This was quite a shocking account from a professional journalist about the celebrities in the college admissions scandal. Like other readers, I didn't know that much about Singer except what I read in the paper and online. It is appalling that celebrities and the rich tier of people feel this is acceptable behavior. The level of entitlement in this book is actually quite disgusting. Colleges and universities can be bribed with money to accept a less than scholarly teenager from a celebrity pushing out a more college-bound freshman that is middle-class or poor who have to work and pay so much for college education. Does not make celebrities kids look good.

This book gets 100% on the research and shock level for sure. I feel this a must read for anyone going into college and if they attend a school with someone well-known. A different read for me for nonfiction but definitely important.

Thanks to Netgalley, the authors and Penguin Group Portfolio for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Available: 7/21/20
Profile Image for Nikki.
8 reviews3 followers
July 22, 2020
What a fascinating and enlightening piece of journalism. I was drawn in from the very beginning, as the authors introduced the various players in the scandal and provided background and detail that would lay very convincing groundwork that led to all of these incredibly awful decisions. I knew very little about the Rick Singer, and I found his story exceptional and shattering. This book is constructed somewhat like a thriller, with a steady build up, and twisting roads across so many states, through so many lives, that lead to the eventual exposure and takedown of the key players. This was completely startling in many places, it's a good primer for anyone interested in the case, and it also works as a business expose-type work alongside BAD BLOOD, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and other such tales.
Profile Image for Jessica White.
475 reviews36 followers
January 27, 2021
Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & The Making of The College Admissions Scandal gives us a definitive look into the complexity of the scandal. We learn about how Rick Singer gained clients through word of mouth. We see dozens of parents falling into his well scripted trap and agreeing to go along with his lies. Honestly, Singer was only caught because one of his coaches was arrested in relation to a different crime and let his name slip.

Rick Singer has been running the college admission game for the last 20 years. He started small in the early 2000's, telling parents and teens to lie about their race/ethnicity on their applications, they could always feign innocence once they've made it into their interview.

Once Singer realized there was a market for college admissions counselors, he was determined to be the best one out there. He created an organization called "The Key" and quickly began funneling "donations" through his business. He was known for utilizing the side door for college admissions, a sure fire way to guarantee students would get into schools such as USC, UCLA, University of Texas, even Yale and Harvard. He convinced parents that just donating money to the school of their child's dreams wouldn't be enough to get them an acceptance letter. They needed high ACT/SAT scores, which could be guaranteed with the low, low price of $15k. From there Singer and parents would create a donation/payment plan for his services, which often included toting the potential student as an athletic recruit.

It's insane to me how long Rick Singer got away with this scheme of his.
What's even crazier is these infamous parents had given their kids virtually every opportunity and still chose to bribe their way into college. Many of these children would have been fine getting into these schools on their own, their grades and extracurriculars were more than enough to be noticed by the admissions office. Yet their parents still wanted that guarantee, they wanted to know it was a sure thing.

My question, in the aftermath of all this.....
What do the schools do with the kids they've already accepted?
Many of these children had no idea of their parents illicit scheme. This book only mentioned the aftermath of one student, who with his non-fraud test scores, they still would have admitted him. Therefore, he was allowed to stay in school there.

It just blows my mind that this flew under the radar for so long.

This review and other true crime reviews can be found at A Reader's Diary!
Profile Image for Erika Nerdypants.
820 reviews42 followers
December 1, 2020
DNF. Just couldn't get myself back into this. I gave up halfway through. It's not the writing. It's the subject matter. Privileged people trying to cheat their way into even more promising futures at the expense of others. Nothing new here.
Author 18 books29 followers
July 22, 2020
Just a year ago (2019) the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal crashed into the headlines. Some of the best coverage at the time came from Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz. Now they're back with a much deeper look, in their new book: "Unacceptable."

I'd have been satisfied if the authors had simply recounted each tragicomic detail of the scheme. How could the Yale soccer coach and the Stanford sailing coach get caught up in an access/bribery racket that was such an obviously career-destroying scene? Why were minor Hollywood stars so eager to sneak their children into schools beyond the teens' academic merit? And what's this about trying to pass off a non-athletic child as a track star by grafting his face onto a legitimate picture of someone else doing the pole vault?

The authors deliver the facts just fine, but what makes this a 5-star book is the author's understanding that we can't let go of all this craziness until we understand why it happened. Everyone in The Varsity Blues is a a powerful person who really ought to have known better. So that invites the question: What demons or delusions drove them to cheat? It also leads us into more ominous territory, as we realize that the scandal is just a half-step beyond what's already considered fair game in the college admissions game.

Korn and Levitz spend a lot of time in the early chapters probing the life story of Rick Singer, the admissions consultant who made his living devising up highly irregular ways of getting teens into elite (or semi-elite) colleges.

We meet Singer first as a middle-school basketball coach so obsessed with winning that he crushes opponents by as much as 50 points. We are fascinated and horrified by his cunning, as he finds ways to manipulate SAT scores and connect with pliant sports coaches willing -- at a price -- to vouch for teens who aren't really athletes at all.

Then the camera pulls back. We realize that Singer is just the No. 1 opportunist taking advantage of a system built to be abused. It's already well-understood (and accepted!) that super-wealthy families can get their not-so-amazing children into elite schools by donating the $10 million or more that a new building might cost. Call that 200x annual tuition.

What about those who are only rich enough to pay 5x or 10x annual tuition? Can't they have a deal too? Can't they have a racket? The answer, awkwardly, is that coaches of minor sports are frustrated by skimpy budgets. Yet these coaches also have the secretly valuable power of recommending a few borderline students for admission as non-scholarship athletes. Ethical coaches would never think of misusing that power. Still, in some circles ethics can get quite rubbery.

The biggest culprits of all, in Korn and Levitz's telling, are the status-conscious parents who want to brag about their children's entry to an elite college. These parents may say they just want the best for their offspring. But that's not really true at all. What these parents crave is bragging rights, regardless of the agony of sending their children off for four years of impostor-hood.

As long as such parents enjoy outsized fortunes and ambitions, the pressures to corrupt the admissions process won't go away. Not only do they hire Singer, but they refer him to their friends.

To unwind this whole mess, Korn and Levitz close with a simple plea that college-bound children be given "breathing room." They note that the teens themselves aren't obsessed with getting into an Ivy League school, or a near-Ivy counterpart. They end up being steered along by overzealous parents, incapable of letting their children find their own way.

One book alone can't change everything. But this is an excellent start.
Profile Image for Rachel.
145 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2020
Excellent book- well written- fast paced- one of those rare nonfiction books where the authors anticipated reader questions/responses- so just completely satisfying. The topic is devastating and just frustrating and stands as one example at the disconnect between socioeconomic classes- one of my biggest takeaways is how it must have felt as a teen to find out your parents’ faith in you was so shaky they would bend their moral compass-
158 reviews
October 1, 2020
I love this topic. So scandalous. This is probably why I knew most of the content of this book, which was unfortunate. This read like a juicy tabloid and I kind of thought it would be more legitimate. Every chapter was basically the chapter beforehand but with another wealthy, elite student. It was a fun read; my expectations were set too high.
Profile Image for Mark Schueler.
45 reviews
January 29, 2021
Unacceptable is a rare breed. Nonfiction that reads like fiction. This page-turner was so engaging that I could barely put it down. Definitely worth the read.
Profile Image for Ladz.
Author 4 books44 followers
April 10, 2022
Listened to the audiobook

Yes. I’m still inhaling everything I can about fraud. Fraudsters did a whole series, including interviews with the authors of this book who did the investigating (the episodes start with 36: Rick Singer Part I). While the series is thorough, I did want to get at it from the source.

The saga of the college admissions scandal is much stranger than even the reports can come out. It’s a story of the desperation to prove oneself and having awfully specific goals that supersede decency. It’s also a scathing condemnation at the ridiculousness that is applying to college for which there is no real solution as long as branding and exclusivity take priority over the quality of education.

A great read if you want to make fun of the ridiculousness of rich people and also get incredibly angry about privilege and gaming systems that already bend towards those who are winning.

I think the stories of fraud that make me invested the most are those where there are consequences for bad behavior. Yes, Rick Singer had something to prove to…someone (that part is really left in the air, because he achieved his goal of a million-dollar home but then just, kept going). But in terms of the greater infrastructure that is higher ed in the U.S., it’s turtles all the way down of advantages and what meritocracy even means, if it means anything at all. Sure, some of the parents went to jail, some of the coaches had to pay fines and lost their jobs, but college admissions is still a disaster.

The book asks very important questions around what accountability is, who the victims are, what can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again. There are students whose photos were doctors so that other children can get into school, they are clearly victims of this scandal. But then there’s the questions of students who could have gotten in if not for the fraud, but that feels speculative and makes prosecution difficult. The entire system needs to be reformed on several fronts.

The part that gets me most is how little self-reflection there was on the part of most parents. Sure, some of the their kids worked hard to be interesting and stand out among an already competitive applicant pool. But others feel they deserve spots in schools that are all about branding as exclusive. Throw in the navigation around student loans and it’s an entire mess. A lot of the parents involved in the scandal could more than support their students (some of the donations were lump sum the price of an entire year of schooling). I feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it.

It’s interesting because reflecting on my own higher education journey, the perception of the school definitely mattered a lot to my parents. It came from a place of being immigrants in America and having no interior concept of what “making it” looks like. They knew about Ivies, but little about other schools. That, I think, is the crux of the problem. There’s little reflection beyond the scope of the scandal of what “a good education” looks like, especially as college becomes less of an advantage and more a baseline requirement. It’s mired in classism without any clear answers.

This read is thought-provoking and raises a ton of questions about internal and external validation, both on the part of students and their parents.
Profile Image for Emily.
618 reviews22 followers
December 30, 2020
Well done! The rich are able to nudge their kids into top colleges in every way possible: private schools, tutoring, SAT prep, volunteer vacations, as many extracurriculars as possible; but getting into the ideal college is never a sure thing. Rick Singer created a "side door" to making college admissions a sure thing: bribing coaches to admit kids as athletic prospects. He also developed myriad legitimate and illegitimate ways to boost kids' chances to get into top colleges, from polishing essays and encouraging them to "have a brand" to bribing SAT site supervisors and paying a proctor to take kids' tests for them. This book has too many characters to keep track of; too many people availed themselves of Rick Singer's services to ensure that their kids got into the best college. Most of these parents went to jail for some time between a week and a few months. Before this I didn't know much about this college scandal other than asking my cousin who reads People about it, but justice actually won in this case, and the rich were punished. And their kids, the ones whom Korn interviewed, had a common refrain of, "Why didn't you believe in me?" That's harsh. The one thing this book lacks is more information about Aunt Becky's specific case. She's in here, but it seems like she may have been one of the ones sentenced after this book was completed, and Korn might be making a point that the hedge fund managers and Hot Pockets magnates are just as guilty as the celebrities you've heard of. And in the end, some superficial changes have been made to prevent this specific kind of cheating ever again, but the system is still unfair and the rich still have the advantage. Well worth reading.
391 reviews3 followers
October 14, 2020
This is the Rick Singer/Varsity Blues college admissions scandal in impressive detail. We all know the story so the shock value is largely lost by now, but this is the well-written and well-researched saga of how it came to be, the institutional problems that allowed it to happen, and the downfall of so many people who should have known better. I particularly enjoyed the insights into law enforcement, including strategy and turf battles (why was this all prosecuted in Boston??), and how the framing of the cases almost resulted in dismissal of the whole thing. Aside from that, the most amazing thing to me is how long it went on - with so many people in on the scheme and red flags galore, you would have thought this house of cards would have crashed down long before.

Probably not an ideal read for people like me who are in the midst of the college admissions process (amplifying my anxiety is not what I need, especially right now!), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are expecting salacious trash that basically just repeats what you've already read and tries to stretch it into an actual book, this is not it. I was pleasantly surprised.
515 reviews220 followers
January 30, 2021
Arrangement of the book is excellent. The background to the scandal is clearly established, the main architects behind the scheme are identified and their methods explained in a very clear manner. Then it proceeds to the investigation and eventual nabbing of the perpetrators.
It certainly raises disturbing questions about the entire admissions process and how it can be manipulated. Too many corrupt agents succeeded in profiting as they exploited loopholes in testing, athletics, and the lack of oversight in evaluating candidates for admission.
The real tragedy is that worthy students would be short-changed and rejected because others abused their substantial resources to game the system. Furthermore it is an indictment of parents who let their egos compromise the interests of their own children.
Highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in the topic or is the parent of a student who will be preparing for their own college selections.
Profile Image for Darcie.
7 reviews
February 1, 2021
You know this story already. You’ve read the stories about the incredible hubris of Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman, and a raft of other 1% ers behaving badly. But you don’t know the details - just how scummy and dishonest Rick Singer is, just how culpable the parents really are, just how egregious the college process can be - until you read this. It’s quite frankly stunning. It took me an unusually long time to get through this book, because every new anecdote, every new entitled family, made me so furiously angry. As someone still struggling under a mountain of college debt, the ability of these parents to not only pay in full for obscenely expensive schools, but to then pay bribes on top of that is shocking, and speaks to the fundamental unfairness that exists in American society. I’m disgusted by this story, and impressed that these writers were able to elucidate it so clearly, because it’s incredibly disturbing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Fernando  Hoces de la Guardia.
169 reviews4 followers
May 15, 2021
Jaw dropping account of the college admission scandal. Got me thinking in many different directions. In no particular order:
- of how insanely perverse is the admission system to elite colleges in the US
- of how much legal privilege is similarly repugnant to the crimes narrated here. Easy examples are the millón dollar donations to obtain a spot the legal way. Next come the super privileged summer camps to help high school students build a profile for college. Then goes expensive test preparation services (of which I benefit in my time). But how different are these advantages from having parents with graduate degrees that provide all this tutoring in-house?
- of how can I shield my kids, and my wife and I, from all that status competitions.
- of how the notion of meritocracy is deeply, if not lethally, harmed by an environment that produces such a race to the very bottom.
Profile Image for Jill Crosby.
718 reviews54 followers
January 8, 2021
Lots and lots and LOTS of information in this book, dealing with the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. There’s so much information, in fact, that it’s often hard to hang onto the thread of the story. Backstories on everyone from lawyers to grandparents to coaches’ wives clog the flow and hinder the movement of the narrative. I would’ve liked more insight from the parents or the kids, the recipients of all the favors their parents’ bribes purchased—I think the stories of the children at the heart of this scandal would highlight some of the greatest damage done by wealthy, competitive parents, e.g. “Why didn’t you believe in me?”
95 reviews4 followers
September 2, 2020
'Unacceptable' is a non-fiction book detailing the college admissions scandal that came to light in 2019. Rick Singer was obviously the star, but through this book, we are introduced to celebrity parents, business moguls, American and international millionaires, money-hungry coaches, and many others who took advantage of a system that already seems rigged in their favor.

I thought 'Unacceptable' was fantastic. The pacing was just right, and I thought the length was appropriate too. I found the depictions to be fair and didn't fall victim to dramatization. Korn and Levitz also expose much more than was mentioned in the media. Everyone knows that 'Aunt Becky' of Full House fame had her influencer daughter pose for pictures atop a rowing machine, but 'Unacceptable' delves deeper. As I read, an analogy kept sticking in my mind. Obviously what Singer and co. were doing was wrong, but it felt more like the operation was polluting a filthy, contaminated sewer as opposed to littering in a pristine stream previously untouched by man. The colleges/universities at the center of the book have a lot to answer for, and a long way to go to create a fair playing field for their applicants.

The rest of the story will likely play out in the courts deep into 2021, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book in late 2020. I would recommend it broadly, even to those who typically do not enjoy non-fiction.

Note: I received a free ebook copy of 'Unacceptable' in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for TJL.
609 reviews36 followers
September 8, 2020
Ah, the College Admissions Scandal: Proving that the only real privilege in this world is cold, hard cash.

Also, I love how towards the end the author mentions that some moms were getting in a huff because "Oh, so Felicity Huffman got charged but not William H Macy? UGH, I guess it's MOM'S fault AGAIN because moms are the eternal victims of society!"

This is why you should always second-guess such claims when you hear them in the news, kids: Because evidently these women couldn't be bothered to see the dozens of dads charged in the scandal too- including Lori Loughlin's husband.
49 reviews
January 1, 2021
Disturbing reporting about the “varsity blues” higher education admissions scandal, how higher education admissions work (and dysfunctional internal controls and/or lack of code of conduct policies exist), and the unholy alliance between higher education and money. Bothersome to me especially as a longtine higher education compliance based administrator.

Disturbing but necessary read.

(Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher)
187 reviews20 followers
January 15, 2021
This book was a fantastic and fascinating exploration of what happened in the college admission scandal. It did really well delving into the financial leaders who took part as well as the coaches who took part. The portrait painted of Rick Singer as the man who wanted more even as the legitimate side of his business flourished. I could have used a little more on why Lori Loughlin and her husband were so adamant about their innocence.
12 reviews
February 1, 2021
An interesting yet frustrating read. Very good overview of the scandal and direct to the point.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Wolf.
Author 9 books7 followers
May 12, 2021
I learned about this book at the Newburyport Literary Festival. The authors ran a fantastic session. I got the audiobook on credit from Audible. Great for listening while exercising. Incredibly well researched. Some chapter the research overwhelms the story. If I wasn't motivated by the step count I'm not sure I would have finished it.
38 reviews
November 11, 2020
Highly detailed, fast paced account of the Varsity Blues Scandal. Great read for college admission professionals and for parents who are interested in the college admission process.
58 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2020
I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook - I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I knew snippets about Varsity Blues, but this book delved deep into the intricacies of the college scandal and was extremely well-researched. As the parent of a high schooler, I understand the temptation to get overly involved in where my child gets into college and what the name of the college reflects about me as a parent; however, it's still mind boggling that so many parents were willing to use such unethical means.
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