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College Cheating Scandal: 2 Ex-Admissions Officers Explain the Process Behind the Scenes

The federal case brought this week against 50 people, including CEOs and Hollywood stars, suggests that some rich and powerful families use their wealth to illegally subvert the process and gain an advantage

College admissions officers comb through stacks of applications, essays, GPA scores and and more to select the few students who will be accepted, and two former officers from prestigious schools told NBC News what that process looks like as it comes under scrutiny after a massive college bribery scheme was uncovered.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's former director of undergraduate selection, McGreggor Crowley, said that it doesn't long to see if a student will be competitive: "We see so many transcripts that, in about a third of a second, we can tell what type of trajectory the student is on."

And while Crowley said that the process is so huge that he doesn't expect it "to be purely meritocratic," both he and former Columbia Univeristy admissions officer Eric Sherman said mid-level admissions officers strive to consider applicants in good faith and on the basis of their records.

These officers are the gatekeepers of what has become a deeply competitive — and, for many, a deeply unequal — process for high school students where only a tiny fraction of applicants are accepted. The federal case brought this week against 50 people, including CEOs and Hollywood stars, suggests that some rich and powerful families use their wealth to illegally subvert the process and gain an advantage.

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