At least four Country Day seniors — Kyra LaFitte, Jack Christian, Allison Zhang and Blake Lincoln — met with the man at the center of a college admissions bribery scandal.
On March 12, William “Rick” Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering, obstruction to justice and tax evasion.
According to the Rolling Stone, Singer owned two businesses: a for-profit organization named the Key, which provides college counseling and test preparation, and a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization named the Key Worldwide Foundation. The Department of Justice suspected the nonprofit organization was a cover for Singer, allowing him to wire funds to coaches and test administrators in order to boost his clients’ college applications.
Coincidentally, Singer coached the SCDS boys basketball team in 1992-93.
LaFitte said she met with Singer twice: once at her home, the other at a Boudin Bakery.
“He was nice, but something about him seemed off, so I didn’t like him,” LaFitte said. “I remember he said to suggest to my teacher to make the Glass Knife a website (instead of) a book, since that will make me iconic. That whole thing was just really uncomfortable because the point of the Glass Knife was for it to be a book.
“He told me he would be with me for pretty much the rest of my life. He said he texts his students all the time and that he has resources from schools.”
When Christian met with Singer during his sophomore year, Christian said Singer “bragged a lot about himself and his business.”
“He talked a lot about how we were lucky to have a personal meeting with him,” Christian said. “He was pretty upfront — borderline rude — and essentially said that the universities I wanted to get into were impossible to get into unless my family donated a large sum of money or I did something really amazing and shaped my image.”
Christian said he didn’t use Singer as his counselor.
“After the meeting, my parents and I were very shaken and shocked,” Christian said. “We could tell something was off with his business and him as a person.”
Christian added that his family was surprised by the scope of the scandal but not by Singer’s involvement.
“Our first reaction truly was, ‘I knew it!’” Christian said. “(But) we never expected him to be involved in such a huge racketeering scheme, so it was a big shock, as he had been sitting in our living room only a few years ago while all this was going on.
“I feel bad for a lot of his students, though, who actually worked hard to get into college, and (now) his bad actions have affected his whole company and all those students.”
Zhang was even more suspicious of Singer.
“When we were talking with Rick Singer, he said that my dad should put him as a business expense,” Zhang said. “He said it would be more convenient for our family since we can just write it off of tax as a donation.
“Now I’m here reading this article (about the fraud) and thinking, ‘This is how he got the money!’ These families donated to his foundation, and that’s how the money got through. To think that he was trying to get my dad to do the same, it was so shady and weird.”
Director of college counseling Jane Bauman said this incident has raised confusion in the college admissions system.
When anyone involved in helping students apply to colleges pleads guilty of fraud, it makes us ask questions about the entire college application process.
— Director of college counseling Jane Bauman
“When anyone involved in helping students apply to colleges pleads guilty of fraud, it makes us ask questions about the entire college application process,” Bauman said. “Applying to colleges can be daunting because some colleges are very selective.
“However, there are good colleges for everyone. We always emphasize finding a college that fits the student academically, socially, philosophically and financially.”
But Zhang said the scandal also reflects the flaws of college admissions.
“It felt really horrible just reading through the news articles and about the things building up to what he did,” Zhang said. “Rich people are paying him millions of dollars to get into college, which is completely illegal. (But) then there are really wealthy families who will donate millions of dollars to a school to fund a building, and that practically ensures the student gets into that college, which is totally legal.
“It’s the whole mess of the college application process.”
Zhang added that ideally, the college admissions process is a meritocracy. But “sometimes it’s not completely a meritocracy just by the nature of our society.
“Some people are more privileged and can afford to take some great summer programs, and there are others who don’t have this opportunity. But it just blows the roof off of that when families who have all these opportunities still try to bribe their way into a college.”
Banned from Country Day
According to former head of school Stephen Repsher, Singer was banned from the campus in 2009.
“I called (Singer) in 2008 or 2009, asking him to meet with me to discuss some concerns I had,” Repsher said. “I heard he was bad-mouthing the school and (wanted to tell him) that he must stop. I considered it unethical for him to criticize the school publicly while profiting off our students.”
Repsher added that he also wanted to challenge Singer’s “Board of Directors” posted on his website, since it seemed suspicious that a private college counselor would have connections to highly ranked educators.
“I happened to know Donald Kennedy, who had been president of Stanford University and listed as one of Singer’s ‘directors,’” Repsher said. “I called Dr. Kennedy to inform him and ask him if he was, in fact, connected to this guy. He was very surprised and said he was not on Singer’s board, and that he only vaguely recalled once meeting him briefly at a cocktail party in the Bay Area.”
Singer didn’t show up at his scheduled meeting with Repsher.
“I called him, and he made up a weak excuse for why he didn’t attend the meeting,” Repsher said. “We set up the appointment a second time, and he (didn’t show up) again. I called him back one more time, but he never responded.
“I spread the word in the high school that he was not welcomed on campus and for folks to let me know as soon as anyone saw him at the school in order to confront him.”
Repsher’s sentiments about Singer and the scandal were similar to Christian’s.
“It seemed perfectly in character for the guy based on what I knew and had heard about him,” Repsher said. “The only surprising thing to me is that it took so long for such an egregious, unsophisticated and outrageous scam to unravel.
“The episode puts a dark stain on the process of college admissions. As someone who spent four-and-a-half decades of his life in college-preparatory education, I find it highly offensive that something like this could happen and look forward to justice being served.”
—By Ming Zhu