You Don’t Need to Cheat Your Way to College: 5 Ways to Level the Playing Field

The country is reeling after revelations of people using wealth and privilege to take advantage of the college admissions process. Colleges and universities have long been thought to be one of the last bastions of the American meritocracy. The college cheating scandal has led some prospective students to become discouraged about their own prospects for higher education.

Parents and students are mistakenly believing that their hard work and character isn’t as important as it once was when it comes to attending the college of their choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. When people cheat, they’re only cheating themselves. Here’s how you can level the playing field and give yourself your best chance at getting into your top school.

1. Take Advantage of Free Resources

Lots of Americans don’t realize that there are a veritable plethora of resources available to both students and parents that are completely free. Getting the support that you need to succeed doesn’t have to cost a fortune, or cost anything at all. To make the most of many of these options, all you have to do is ask.

School counselors are here to help students on their path to college. Organizations like the North Carolina School Counselor Association are all about empowering students to achieve their potential. Your counselor can tell you what you need to do to get into the college you want. Whether that means applying extra effort in particular classes or joining the right clubs, school counselors can keep you informed on what it takes to get to where you want to go.

Remember that college prep begins as early as middle school. You should really start thinking about clubs, activities and honors courses in the 7th grade. It won’t do much good to put in the effort at the last minute.

2. Extracurricular Activities Go a Long Way

College admissions boards look at much more than your grades and test scores when it comes to admissions. Extracurricular activities can speak volumes about a person’s character, and they extend far beyond athletics. Leadership and charitable organizations are a great way to add some additional activities to your resume. Extracurriculars can help present you as a thoughtful, hard-working, and well-rounded student. The same goes for part-time jobs! Part-time work can help demonstrate responsibility, leadership, and understanding the value of money. A hard worker is a hard worker, and that’s exactly who colleges want on their campuses. Be careful not to go overboard. April Query of College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) said that “quality over quantity” is a phrase she frequently hears from school counselors.

“When I work with admissions counselors these are the exact words that they use, ‘We would rather have a student who’s done a couple of things that they’ve been highly involved with, they’ve taken a leadership position, they’re running volunteer activities,’” she said. “You know, whatever it is that shows them that they’ll mimic these same behaviors on a college campus, versus dabbling here and there.”

3. Explore the College Foundation Website

There’s a lot that goes into the college admissions process. Because there’s so much going on, it can be intimidating to students. CFNC is here to make things easier. is loaded with helpful tips and resources to help you navigate the college application process. Whether you’re looking to plan, apply, pay, or save for college, CFNC is here to help you every step of the way.

4. Search for Scholarship Opportunities

People make such a big deal about the cost of college that they forget just how affordable higher education can be. Skip Watts, a regional representative for CFNC, said that money is one of the biggest issues for parents when it comes to higher education. “The major concern for most parents is how I’m going to pay for college,” he said. “I just hope that it doesn’t discourage lower-income kids from feeling that they have the opportunity to attend elite universities.”

Plenty of students are under the impression that scholarships are only available for sports and academics. There are actually all kinds of scholarships that you might have never heard of. Be sure to search through available scholarships to acquaint yourself with what’s out there. The amount of money you could end up finding for school may surprise you.

5. Make the Most of Free Test Prep

One aspect of the college cheating scandal that has raised the ire of many parents is how people took advantage of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Most parents are well aware of the importance of these tests but are under the false impression that tutors and test prep are something reserved for the wealthy. The truth is that there all kinds of free ways you can improve your scores on standardized tests.

CFNC is dedicated to helping students and parents plan, save, and pay for college. With free testprep for the SAT, ACT, and GRE, students can find everything needed to succeed.

Declan Sander, a senior at Hendersonville High School and Victor E. Bell Scholarship recipient, emphasized how online resources such as YouTube and studying on your own can be a difference-maker in achieving the scores you want.

“Self-study is underrated,” he said. “You have to study hard, and if you got a scholarship, you’re obviously a hard worker.”

It’s easy to read the news and feel like the deck is stacked against you when it comes to college admissions. The truth is that it all boils down to the student and how much work you’re willing to put in. If you study hard and remain mindful of the resources available to you, the sky is the limit when it comes to where you want to go to college. Don’t get mad. Get busy!