MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Area students, parents and college counselors are taking notice of a scandal centered around some of the nation’s most elite schools.
After an investigation lasting more than a year, federal agents said they uncovered a scheme involving bribes and lies to get students into elite colleges and universities.
Allegations involve parents paying bribes to college officials, and the founder of a college prep business helping parents fake their students’ test scores, athletic credentials, and photographs.
Samia Ferraro is an Independent Educational Consultant, who owns her own businesses, College Connection Inc.
She helps students prepare themselves as much as possible for college, and she does so while abiding by strict ethical standards in the industry.
"This is the student's job and we are merely guiding them and we are coaching them along the way,” Ferraro said.
She helps students zero in on which schools they might want to apply to by figuring out their interests, and determine which schools might be the best fit. But their scores, grades, and essays are never fabricated. Their acceptance is based solely on their true qualifications, Ferraro said. Ferraro just helps students set goals and highlight their accomplishments in the best way.
"We can't guarantee. We can't promise anything,” Ferraro said.
In her more than 20 years in the industry, Ferraro said she has had parents ask her to help students cheat.
"Twice. Actually, twice I have been asked to do it. And twice I've said no,” Ferraro said.
She was shocked to learn of the widespread allegations of bribery and cheating recently uncovered, though she also feels this has been going on for a long time.
"It's the parents who feel as though 'I have to give my student, my child every advantage that I can and if I can pay to get them in a school, I'm going to say to get them into a school',” Ferraro said.
Ultimately, she said it puts the students at a disadvantage, potentially getting them into a school they might not be prepared for or even a good fit for.
High School seniors like Sam Crombie say you can not help but wonder if the alleged bribes have kept more qualified students from being accepted.
The Martin County High School students have applied to and are waiting to hear back from schools who were brought up during the investigation, like the University of Southern California and Georgetown University.
"Just kind of wait and hope for the best,” Crombie said.
He says this investigation highlights the growing competitiveness for college applicants.
"It's concerning, and you know it's not going to get any better with every year, acceptance rates falling and more kids applying,” Crombie said.
He holds out hope that his good grades, test scores and extracurricular will be a bigger sell to top schools. He also hopes parents considering unethical measures will consider the bigger impacts of their actions.
"You're teaching your child that it's acceptable behavior to pay your way through life when in reality, merit is something that should matter."