When You’re A Wealthy High School Student, You Can Pay People To Take The SAT For You

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In my house growing up, getting a good education was considered extremely important. My parents shelled out money for everything from math tutors (they didn’t take) to expensive private schools to those special Kaplan classes that are supposed to help you ace your SATs. My poor mother spent most of our teenage years driving 40 minutes each way to take my brother and I to our faraway, prestigious high schools and the years before that checking our homework and quizzing us for tests.

My own daughter has been in a pre-preschool program since she was two and while we thankfully have great public schools where we live, I definitely foresee some tutoring and test prep in her distant future. While all of these things are pretty standard for those of us who grew up in middle or upper class households, a recent story about SAT cheating in Great Neck, NY got me thinking about the lengths affluent teens and their parents will go to in their quest for admission into the nation’s elite schools.

While paying someone to take a test for you is clearly a case of cheating, kids who grow up in middle and especially upper class households gain all sorts of advantages in the educational race. Prep courses, like the ones offered by Kaplan, start at nearly $200 and can run to nearly $1,000. Private tutors can cost even more. Many parents shell out the cash for multiple prep courses, attempting to ensure their children excel on both the SATs and the AP exams, both of which play a large role in college admission decisions. Additionally, wealthier families are also able to enroll their children in more and earlier extra-curricular activities, making it more likely that they will fit into a niche that admissions officers are anxious to fill. And there is, of course, the fact that students from middle and upper class backgrounds attend grade and high schools where more money is available to spend on each student. In fact, Great Neck spends roughly $22,000 per student. By comparison Lehman High School in the Bronx only spends about $14,500.

But, while these facts might indicate a certain inequality within the educational system, none of these things are illegal or morally wrong. Of course parents who can afford to should provide their children with whatever will help them to do well on standardized testing. But there are times when parents can cross the line. Some parents will do their child’s homework for them. There have also recently been anecdotal stories from doctors and medical professionals about some wealthy parents paying large sums of money to have their child incorrectly diagnosed with a learning disorder to ensure that they have more time when taking the SATs.

There has always been a system of admission on demand to those parents willing to donate large enough sums to certain universities. And of course, many parents –especially those paying hefty sums for private schools — are more than willing to badger teachers and administrators when they are unhappy about a low grade. I also can’t help but wonder how many of the parents of the teens accused of cheating in Great Neck knew what was going on. At least some of them had to know their child was up to no good.  After all where does a 17 year old get $2,500 if not from his parents?

While seeing your child excel academically and get into a good college is a matter of concern for many parents, it does seem like some need to draw a more distinct line between right and wrong. Unfortunately we will always have an educational system that tilts in favor of the wealthiest; however directly paying for grades or admission or extra time on a test makes this advantage even more distinctly unfair. Sure, it’s easy to go to extremes when you are trying to help your child, but we all need to realize that sometimes failure is a blessing and cheating is always wrong.

(photo: Shutterstock)