A comprehensive review of “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions”


photo via Slash Films

After parking in my driveway, I let out a long sigh. Spending eight hours cutting meat and portioning sides for unappreciative customers has fully exhausted my mental capacity. Walking through the door, I’m greeted by the sound of raucous laughter, discovering my aunt and mom deep in conversation on the couch. As they catch sight of (or hear the door slam behind, semantics) me, the topic of conversation becomes clear. My aunt had joked that my mom paid for me to get into Ohio State, which had set them both off. The infamous college admissions scandal of 2019 had come up in conversation for an innocuous reason: Aunt Tina had recently watched the new Netflix documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal.”

Now, I will fully admit to being ignorant on this topic before I watched this hour-and-forty minute special.  I didn’t read the federal complaint or dive into the news coverage and numerous articles on the topic in 2019. I would get a glimpse of Felicity Huffman or Lori Loughlin’s names on NBC once in a while and was aware USC was a major player, but that was the extent of my knowledge. 

My aunt suggested that this documentary might interest me as I had just gone through the college admissions process myself. Intrigued, I sat down to watch. Now, for those like me with no prior knowledge, this story is fascinating. 

Rick Singer passed himself off to the public as a legitimate college counselor, someone wealthy people were willing to pay large sums of money to. When he started the Key, his for-profit company in 2011, it was still a unique and novel prospect. Singer’s business model, colloquially known as the “side door,” granted children admission to the nation’s most elite universities. Rich parents wanted to guarantee their child(ren) would get into the school of their choice, whether that be Stanford, Yale, USC or another top 50 university. After being convinced by Singer that their child wouldn’t get in without his help, these parents were on board with cheating and lying. 

His approach was two-fold. The first aspect involved cheating on the standardized tests colleges heavily rely on when determining if a student is worthy of admissions. The parents involved in this scandal would request special accommodations for their child after they were often fraudulently diagnosed with ADHD by a doctor. Then, the student would take the SAT or ACT in a specialized location with a proctor arranged by Singer. After the student had taken the exam and left the room, the monitor changed their answers to achieve the desired score. 

The next part of his plan was even more diabolical and genius. Singer targeted lesser-known sports, like sailing and water polo, and submitted the student’s applications as athletes when they had never played the sport a day in their life. They were admitted as recruited athletes who never showed up to practice because he paid off coaches. 

After the children were admitted into the chosen university, parents made a donation to Singer’s charity. They then reported the donation to the IRS as tax deductible. Thus, when the scandal broke, over 33 influential and wealthy parents were charged with numerous counts of mail and tax fraud.

From 2011-2019, Singer pocketed over 25 million dollars. As his scam fell down around him, he cooperated fully with federal officials. Wearing a wire, he placed calls to many of the parents indicted in the scandal so they would implicate themselves. On March 12, 2019 he pled guilty to all charges against him. As of March 2021, there are no sentencing hearings scheduled for Singer. 

This documentary covers his entire sordid plan, including enticing conversations between Singer and the parents which were wiretapped by the FBI. Actors recreate these scenes, convincingly transporting viewers from New York penthouses to Malibu beach homes. In order to learn more about this scandal and the people involved, watch the documentary on Netflix after a long day at work.