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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in light of the College Admissions Bribery Scandal

posted March 18, 2019 | in College & Career by Rita J. Olivares Cervantes

It’s a good feeling to get into your dream school but that doesn’t mean your dream school will make you feel like you belong. I know this from experience.

The uncomfortable feeling that I didn’t belong at my dream school, the University of Texas at Austin, was supported by other English majors who conversed so naturally over classic literature I had not read. The priority for most of my former teachers was teaching students how to pass standardized tests instead of mastering classic literature.

I went to a high school in an affluent part of town, where my peers were groomed and tutored to attend elite colleges; my dream school was their back-up school. Even a high school “friend” made me feel alienated when they casually asked me if my parents were “illegals”—apparently their border patrol father was curious too.

The disbelief I felt triggered memories I had suppressed of my mother who, realizing the English as a Second Language program I was enrolled in wasn’t benefiting me, fought for my place in an English-speaking classroom.

This transitioned to name-calling when I reached middle and high school. My peers called me “ghetto” and “ratchet” because I code-switched between Spanish and English when I pleased.

This all culminated into one defining moment when a white-washed high school teacher, who tried to discourage me from applying to my dream school, suggested I look elsewhere because UT-Austin was not for me. I only applied to two colleges because I didn’t want to burden my parents with application fees from multiple schools.

Despite the experiences that followed, I was glad I didn’t listen to their words of “caution.”


Experiences like these affect the daily lives of minority students who navigate college campuses while combating imposter syndrome, which is the feeling that their intellect and work ethic is somehow not enough.
The reason the college admissions bribery scandal is so infuriating is because Latino students had little to no guidance on their application process while there were coaches who “help admit undeserving students to a wide variety of colleges” as the New York Times reported.

While critics of affirmative action may have nothing to do with last week’s scandal, we now have empirical evidence that unqualified affluent, white students are much more likely to have had their parents buy them a college spot. This robs deserving students, regardless of race, from an opportunity to change the world—UT’s motto.

This scandal plaguing the nation is something nuestra gente suspected was being swept under the rug as “donations” but has finally been exposed by federal prosecutors. Reading that one of the parents was the actress, Lori Loughlin, who was part of the show “Full House”, a show that demonstrated an ideal white American family led by a single-father, made it ironic in her case.


While sitting in Parlin Hall at UT-Austin, fully aware I was one of three students of color in the classroom, a part of me wanted to go back to the comfort of my 96-percent Mexican and Mexican American bordertown of Laredo. I found myself yearning to return to the South Central neighborhood I grew up in where my language and accent are in sync with locals. I began wondering whether my north Laredo high school teacher was right; maybe my dream school wasn’t meant for me after all.

I felt out of place in Austin, a “diverse city,” where I seldom found others like me. But I knew that my parents did not leave the comfort of their home country for their youngest daughter to give up “por unos tontos comentarios de gente que no vale ni un cacahuate (because of people’s ignorant comments).”

According to the most recent updates by the New York Times, 33 high-profile parents paid bonds of up to $250,000 to be released from jail. They worked with William Singer, founder of Edge College & Career Network, which prepares students for college. Their million-dollar bribes helped build fake student profiles.

These parents paid for higher SAT and ACT test scores for their children by having others take the exam for their children or correcting answers before processing of scores. Some even photoshopped the face of the student onto the bodies of athletes. False achievements were sprinkled in to complete the fake profile of a well-rounded candidate for college applications.

The federal prosecutors were tipped off when an anonymous person, who worked with the college prep company, exposed the scheme. Students allegedly had no clue over what happened behind the scenes of their admission process. Coaches involved have either been fired or placed on leave while some parents could face 12 to 37 months in prison.


According to the Hechinger Report article, “Behind the College Degree Gap,” Latino students are disproportionately poor when compared to their counterparts. Students are “living in low-income communities where the schools aren’t preparing children for the rigor of college courses.” Besides the lack of representation on campus, Latino students are also “supporting their families and don’t have the luxury to focus on schoolwork.” Only a combined 22.6 percent of Latinos aged 25-64 held an associate, bachelor, or graduate degree in 2016.

In California, only 18 percent of Latinos have a college degree, even though they make up close to half the state’s population. Though Latinos are increasingly deeming college education an important pathway toward a successful life, many still don’t have a college degree.

Our imposter syndrome is likely deepened by discrimination we experience while pursuing our studies. Andrew Martinez, in a study at the University of Pennsylvania, found that first-generation Latinos in college are at a higher risk of not completing their degree as compared to their non-Latino counterparts. Martinez’s study attributes this to the lack of support as a result of being the first in their family to attend to college


I fought back in every one of those personal moments I shared. As did my mother to give me the best education and like my parents did when they left the comfort of their home country to give me better opportunities. While these affluent students had their parents buy their spot in higher education, our parents crossed borders so we may have the opportunity for higher education.

These are the moments that I chose to empower me as I navigated UT-Austin’s 40 acres and when I took a full course load, an internship, and worked simultaneously. To this I owe my well-deserved spot on the Dean’s List with the recognition of Magna Cum Laude and even more deserved, my spot at The University of Texas at Austin, where I will be graduating this May—looking at the tower con la frente pa’rriba y siempre pa’delante.

Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, University of Texas senior Rita J. Olivares Cervantes will be receiving her B.A. in English Literature and Language as well as Mexican American and Latina/o Studies this May. Her passion and pride for her Mexican roots are what continuously guide her as she writes for the preservation of our antepasados. She hopes to one day become a published author and help bring out the beauty of her culture and people. 

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