Three Takeaways from the “Varsity Blues” College Admissions scandal

As a test prep coach and nationally sought after ACT expert, I have been asked for my opinion on the college admission’s world latest debacle from a few news sources, so I thought I would share here. In my 22 years as a high school English teacher and 10 years helping students with ACT test prep, I have seen a lot of incredible things happen. What can the average family take away from this mess?

  1. There is still a right way to help your child.

As I told the Washington Post, “Parents want to open doors for their children. Some open doors, while some bulldoze walls.”  Getting into college today is much different from how it was thirty-ish years ago when I was going through the process—which means parents of today’s teens had a much different experience as well. As a parent myself, I can’t fault the long list of celebrities and those with means for wanting to help their children. I can’t even fault them for looking for professional help, as there are plenty of IECs (Independent Educational Consultants), test prep coaches, and college essay coaches who are doing things the RIGHT way. How do we help? We can guide you to a school that is a right fit, we can help your child increase a test score, or we can help your student tweak an essay to make your child stands out. Investing a reasonable amount of money for your family can pay off huge dividends.

An increase of as little as one ACT point can mean tens of thousands of dollars in reduced tuition rates. One of my recent students took the June ACT (after he had graduated from high school!) and earned an additional $15,000 in merit money to Baylor University, for example. Higher ACT test scores might also make a student stand out against applicants for local scholarships.

However, those implicated in this scheme knew they were doing wrong. Very wrong. Make sure to research who you hire. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. (I don’t think any of the  parents in the recent scandal were hoodwinked by any professional. When you start photoshopping pics of your child, you have crossed a line: a very distinct, THICK line.)


  1.  Start the process early

I made the mistake my own senior year. I thought I wanted to attend a large, SEC school that my family rooted for during basketball season. I had a distant family member who had taught there, so I thought naturally that it was a good fit for me. WRONG. About 15 minutes into the campus tour (February of my senior year), I realized I didn’t like the campus. It was too big; it wasn’t the friendly, warm place I had imagined in my mind. So, on the drive home from the campus we stopped at Xavier University (it was on the way home from Lexington and not too far from my hometown). I loved it. Immediately. Luckily, I had the test score secured to apply and get into any school, but I had started my research way too late. All too often parents and/or students put off this research or put off taking the ACT or SAT tests.  The bad thing about ACT/SAT testing is that it all hinges on one day of a student’s life. It’s really only one small, four hour window. If a student’s scores seem off, then have them retest. Contrary to popular belief, schools do not frown upon trying the ACT and SAT multiple times. Start the research and testing process early to make sure you know your options. For more about a high school timeline, please email me for my free High School Student Checklist.

3. Don’t get caught up in the “Name on the Hoodie” craze

So many families are caught up in sending their child to a school that looks good in a Facebook post or on a sweatshirt, instead of sending their child to the right fit for their child and the family’s finances. It’s easy to do. I look at college as an 80 year choice: it will help with your career path, your friend circle, and send you on a route for the next 80 years of your life (student loan amounts, professional certificates, graduate school options, etc). Those things matter so much more than playing the name game.  A friend posted these startling facts: Only just over 50% of students who start college actually graduate with a degree.  According to the National Student Clearinghouse 2018, 58.6% of 2012 starting students graduated within 6 years. Also, about 80% of students who start and attend PUBLIC 4 year colleges graduated in 6 years.

I asked my friend Coach Renee Lopez for her thoughts and this is what she had to say, “It is very sad that some in higher education have abused their roles. Having been a college coach for 14 years and now an athletic recruiting process educator for families, it makes me sad that character have been thrown out just to earn some money. I work honestly with families to teach them the right ways to get roster spots and athletic scholarships with integrity. I help them understand they need to find the ‘right fit’ of a school by taking the ‘Broken Leg Test’. I only care which location will make them thrive…it isn’t about being a college everyone has heard about… it’s about helping them distinguish what program will be right for them academically, athletically, and socially to prepare them for a career!”

Start the process early to find the right school for your child – and your budget.

There is much more that will come out of the “Varsity Blues” mess. I am sure of it. However, you can take away from important lessons for your own family and not get caught up in a “College-gate” of your own.

If you have other questions about the ACT test or ACT test preparations, please feel free to reach out to me via my website:

Jennifer Henson ( a.k.a “The GOAL DIGGER”) is a nationally sought after test prep expert specializing in the ACT test.  Jennifer, who was Winton Woods City School’s (OH) Teacher of the Year in 2014, holds a Master of Education degree with a Bachelor’s in English from Xavier University—where she was a walk-on tennis player.  She’s taught 22 years and coached ACT prep for over 12 years– and has an army of teachers trained to assist her requests for tutorials. Her former ACT students now attend notable higher learning institutions, including Notre Dame, The Ohio State University, Texas A&M, The Naval Academy, and Dartmouth—among others.