The Family Weekly: The College-Admissions Scandal Shows How Broken the System Is

Plus: Teen moms can affect their grandkids’ educational outcomes, and an IRL friendship formed in the “basement” of the internet

This Week in Family

William “Rick” Singer (right) pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college-admissions bribery scandal. (Steven Senne / AP)

The Department of Justice announced this week that it had charged 50 people with participating in a scheme—involving everything from fraud, to bribery, to cheating on standardized tests—aimed at getting the children of affluent parents into elite schools across the country.

In one example cited in the indictment, a parent was advised to tell his child to pretend to “be stupid” so that a psychologist would allow her to have extra time to take the ACT. That’s just one of many instances described in court documents that reveal the lengths to which these parents were willing to go.
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While the indictment is full of absurd anecdotes, don’t let it distract from the fact that parents still have perfectly legal ways to tip the scales in their children’s favor—from donating a couple of million dollars toward a new building, to endowing a new program, to taking advantage of legacy admissions.
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Athletics programs at elite colleges have long boosted the chance of admission for rich, white students, who make up 65 percent of Ivy League athletes. More so than affirmative action or even legacy, these recruited-athlete programs already skew admissions qualifications in favor of wealthy families—without the need for bribery.
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Caught in a culture that places a premium on status symbols, were the accused parents willing to commit crimes just to improve their social standing? In the words of one researcher: “The parents want to brag to other parents at the grocery store when they’re standing in line: ‘My kid got into Stanford.’ ‘My kid got into Harvard.’”
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(Wenjia Tang)

In this week’s installment of The Friendship Files, Atlantic editor Julie Beck talks to a group of women who managed to foster a friendship in the unlikeliest of places: the comments section of a website. It might have helped that the website in question, Jezebel, had a feminist slant, so commenters knew that rules were in place about what they could and couldn’t say (no body shaming, for example). But the friendship took on a new life when some of the commenters moved platforms, forming a Facebook group and foregoing the anonymity they’d once had.

→ Read about the group’s IRL meet-up at Dollywood

We’re always looking for friends who would be a good fit for this series—friends who met in an interesting way, who have gone through an unusual experience together, or whose story illuminates a particular facet of modern friendship. If you or someone you know fits the bill, send a note about it to, or reply to this newsletter directly.


The teen-pregnancy rate in the United States has dropped by nearly two-thirds since 1990, but a new study measuring educational achievement suggests that teen moms don’t just have an impact on the lives of their own children—the effects of having a child so early might be multigenerational. As Alia Wong explains, this might be because teen pregnancies and poverty are correlated: Most teen moms are poor not because of their adolescent pregnancy, but because poverty tends to beget more poverty. While there isn’t a definitive answer to why the link between a teen mom and her grandchild’s school performance exists, defining it is an important first step in addressing the underlying causes.

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Dear Therapist

(Bianca Bagnarelli)

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, an anonymous reader asks how to facilitate a relationship with her difficult, obnoxious, argumentative mother and the rest of her family. The reader feels guilty for not wanting her mother to attend family events, but if she does invite her, it places a strain on everyone else. Is there a way to make everyone happy?

Lori’s advice: The reader should let her mom deal with—and learn from—what psychologists call “natural consequences.” They’re not an imposed punishment, but a way of letting someone realize that certain behaviors result in certain undesirable outcomes. Though natural consequences are a common parenting technique, they apply in adulthood as well, Lori says.

If the abrasive person weren’t your mom, but were instead your child, you would do your best to offer helpful feedback: Hey, when you create drama with your friends, they want to hang out with you less. That might be why Stella has been avoiding you. You wouldn’t host events at your home in the hopes that your daughter’s friends would show up, or try to orchestrate invitations from others, because that wouldn’t help her at all—she’d just keep engaging in self-defeating behaviors.

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Send Lori your questions at