Operation Varsity Blues,” the 2019 college admissions scandal, returned to the news earlier this year when a Netflix documentary provided a fresh opportunity to decry abuses of privilege and the selfishness of parents seeking to boast of their children’s achievements. Comforting accounts, to be sure: We are not like those celebrity cheaters! But not very illuminating. When we consider how parenthood has changed in recent years, we may find we are not so different after all.
In 2018, in the course of an unrelated case, the F.B.I. stumbled upon an elaborate scheme, coordinated by a college consultant named William “Rick” Singer, to get the children of wealthy families admitted to selective universities, including Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California. Charges were brought against Singer, two of his employees, one university employee, nine college coaches, two people involved in entrance exam administration, and thirty-three prominent parents—most notably, actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, but also CEOs, lawyers, designers, investment bankers, and others. Many of the defendants have since been convicted, sentenced to jail terms, and fined.