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Why Parents Cheat to Get Their Kids into College

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

I recently read some of the results of a survey taken by that addresses why parents cheat to get their kids accepted into college. The purpose of this blog is to share those results and give my own opinion. is an online magazine centered around a lifelong commitment to continuous improvement, enabling smarter choices to be made and produce the best results possible. You can find out more about this worthwhile organization by clicking on this link. surveyed 1,250 parents with at least one child who attends or attended college and found 1 in 4 parents cheated to get their child into college.

This survey shows that cheating to help students get into college is not restricted to the wealthy and well-connected as depicted in the Netflix documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal.” I have blogged about this debacle before saying, “Their [Parents] attempt to get their kids admitted to some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. through the back door, side door, and every which way smacks of ethical relativism where they have defined what is right and what is wrong for their kids and themselves based on their own sense of morality not commonly-accepted standards such as virtue, fairness, and moral duty.”

Notwithstanding the finding that it’s not just parents of the privileged few who cheat, I believe it is exactly that when it comes to getting admitted to the most prestigious academic institutions in the U.S.

Additional key findings address the motivation for cheating  including:

  • 1 in 2 parents of children who went to for-profit institutions cheated to help them get accepted.
  • Nearly half of parents who cheated did so because their child’s high school GPA was perceived to be too low.
  • 78% of parents who took unethical steps to help their child gain college admission say their child knew what they were doing.

Drilling down on the reasons why parents cheat, the survey found that parents used “unethical actions” to boost their kids chances of being admitted to the college of their choice including the following: College admissions

  • Falsifying achievements or volunteer experience on a college application.
  • Writing or paying someone to write a student’s application essay and/or letters of recommendation.
  • Bribing college admissions officials.
  • Making a sizable donation to an institution.
  • Encouraging a student to cheat on standardized tests or having someone else take the test for the students. [Think Operation Varsity Blues].

Certainly, bribing college officials, paying others to take tests for their kids, and making a sizeable donation to a college requires money and that is why I believe white parents cheat more often than parents of minority kids.

The cheating concerns me on a variety of levels. First and foremost, it is wrong to cheat regardless of the circumstances. The ends do not justify the means. Cheating cannot be dismissed because it creates a positive outcome for the child. Moreover, if one or more kids get accepted because of cheating, then it takes away admission spots from more qualified applicants. This is a fairness issue. The playing field should be level with respect to college admissions.

The idea that there is a white privilege in society needs to be addressed with respect to the demographics of parents who help their kids cheat. As stated before, even though I haven’t uncovered any data on this point, it is my view that parents of white kids cheat disproportionally more often than those of minorities. This could be because more white kids go to college, or parents believe their kids are entitled to the best education money can buy regardless of the reasons for admission, or they fail to see the consequences of their actions on others.

Why is parental cheating to get their kids in college so high? The short answer is we live in an entitlement society. Parents feel their kids are entitled to get into the college of their choice even if they don’t qualify—honestly. However, it goes much deeper than that.

It really gets down to is the fact that we live in a no consequences society. Operation Varsity Blues aside—and even then the punishment was woefully less than the crime—parents mostly don’t get caught and if they do the consequences are that the admission of their kid will be rescinded but parents don’t spend time in prison for their misdeeds which is fraud, a criminal offense. So, others may say: Why Not Cheat to Get My Kids into College? After all, 25 percent of parents do it and most don’t get caught. Why shouldn’t I give my kid a leg up on the admission process?

Why is this occurring now with alarming frequency? The answer is we have morphed into a society where each of us is free to define our own ethical values. Right and wrong is situational rather than based on time-honored moral principles like honesty, integrity, respect, and personal responsibility. It’s simply another sign that we have lost our moral compass as a society.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 21, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: