One in Four Parents Have Cheated to Get Their Kids into College, New Survey Finds

Celebrities aren't the only ones willing to go to extremes to boost their kids' futures. A new survey from found average parents also cheated during the college application process.

A man filling out a college application form with his laptop.
Photo: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

It wasn't much of a surprise that wealthy Americans used their money to help their kids get a leg up in the college admissions process. It might have been shocking to hear the lengths the parents caught up in Operation Varsity Blues went to—having a ringer get their kids high SAT and ACT scores, and bribing college athletics coaches into pretending the kids were recruits for sports they had never even played.

But it's not only celebrity parents who have cheated to get their kids into school.

A survey from, a resource for online degree rankings and higher education planning, found 1 in 4 parents have cheated to get their kid into college. It surveyed 1,250 parents in April 2021 with at least one kid who is in or attended a four-year college. It found almost half of the parents cheated because of their kid's low high school GPA while 40 percent of parents did so to "ensure a prosperous future for their child." Parents in high-income households and those who made less than $49,000 a year were more likely to take these actions. Middle-income households accounted for 19 percent of parents who cheated to get their kid into school.

What methods were used? Fifty-two percent of those surveyed made donations to the schools, 41 percent said they had another person take their kid's SAT or ACT test, and 25 percent said they listed fake volunteer work or achievements.

"We've heard stories and scandals about college-admissions cheating among celebrity parents, but this survey reveals that it's not uncommon for average parents to use unethical practices during the college application process," Intelligent managing editor Kristen Scratton said in a statement.

A 2019 YouGov poll, which found that 67 percent of people believe college admissions is rigged in favor of the wealthy, also revealed similar findings. Nearly half of those surveyed believe that most parents would do the same thing if they had the extra cash. More than a third of parents say they would pay someone to take the SATs or ACTs for their kid to get them a higher score, while one in four would pay off college officials to get them into a better school.

In other words—it's likely that someone in your inner circle would be willing to follow in the footsteps of actresses Lori Loughlin or Felicity Huffman. (Even though that clearly didn't work out so hot for them or their families!)

But maybe it's time to rethink taking extreme measures like these, especially if you take into account the long careers that lie beyond college. As Silicon Valley recruiter Steve Cadigan posted on LinkedIn, a swanky school on your resume only gets you so far.

"When I have compared the performance of those we hired from top tier vs. non-top-tier the non-top-tier almost always outperformed," he wrote. "Hunger, grit and determination do more for your children's future on every dimension than any degree or piece of paper ever could."

So perhaps it's best for us to let all of our kids earn their spots—without gaming the system.

Updated by
Lisa Milbrand
Headshot: Lisa Milbrand

Lisa Milbrand is a copy writer for Real Simple, with a passion for writing about food, travel, and hacks to make life easier. Loves fancy restaurants, good coffee and her family (of course); not a fan of waiting in lines.

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