How her testimony highlights problems with SATs and the U.S. college system
by Angela Zervos
The college admissions saga continues after award-winning actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty to bribing a SAT test proctor $15,000 to boost her daughter’s score. Along with serving prison time, Huffman must complete 250 hours of community service, pay a $30,000 fine, and spend a year under supervised release.
This case has been the most high-profile break in the ‘Varsity Blues’ controversy since the arrest of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli back in March after paying for their daughter to attend the University of Southern California under the guise of a sports scholarship. Unlike Loughlin and Giannulli, who remained silent other than to contest their culpability despite the abundance of evidence against them, Huffman took responsibility for her involvement and even provided some insight into her reasoning for committing the crime.
In a letter addressed to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, Huffman expressed the internal conflict she faced when deciding whether or not paying for her daughter Sofia’s test answers to be altered was the best decision for her future in studying theater. The actress had met with Rick Singer, the so-called “mastermind” college counselor behind the admissions scam; he suggested that boosting Sofia’s SAT scores, particularly in math, was the only way Sophia’s school of choice would consider her auditions. Huffman, concerned that Sophia’s low scores would overshadow her acting abilities, took Singer’s advice. She wrote in the letter, “I didn’t want my daughter to be prevented from getting a shot at auditioning and doing what she loves because she can’t do math.”
This problem is relatable to many: the pressure placed on high school students in particular to be “well-rounded” in all aspects of academia, regardless of interest in a specific subject. Not to mention the stress of creating a college résumé filled with noteworthy clubs and extracurricular activities. There has been plenty of discourse surrounding the unfair opportunities presented to wealthy students who can afford high-end test prep for standardized tests. While on the one hand, such tests provide an “equal” evaluation of students across the country regardless of socio-economic status, it’s no secret that students from rich families have historically scored higher. Yet in the Huffman case, we see that the pressure of excelling in all areas of study affects even those who can afford top-notch test prep. The only difference is that when this prep proves unhelpful, the rich and powerful can simply alter the tests scores at their discretion.
“I honestly didn’t and don’t care about my daughter going to a prestigious college. I just wanted to give her a shot at being considered for a program where her acting talent would be the deciding factor,” Huffman wrote. This is a concern of most parents and students in the United States as they consider the unrealistic standards set by colleges for high school students to not only excel in every subject, but be able to demonstrate their ability to do so on a standardized test. However, this is an issue every student must and does face. Huffman was convicted for her attempt to remove this obstacle for her daughter, yet another problem that soils the college admissions process.
As more participants of the controversy are sentenced, we should consider how and if the conversation surrounding the SATs and the unfair pressures placed on students calls for change in the college admissions process.