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The Infamous College Cheating Scandal + Game Theory

In the New York Times article, “L.A.’s Elite on Edge as Prosecutors Pursue More Parents in Admissions Scandal‘ ‘ by Jenifer Medina and Kate Taylor, the infamous college admissions scandal about USC students and other top schools was explained. The article details high profile individuals like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and their collusion scheme to cheat their children into USC. This includes extensive measures, like paying off SAT proctors to let students cheat, bribing a crew coach and photoshopping their children into a team picture, and fabricating grades, all so their children could attend a top college. Every year, admission rates drop for top colleges as thousands and thousands of more students apply every year. This makes the college admission game feel like an olympic game — one must be perfect to achieve the school they want. 

According to the textbook, Game Theory is “concerned with situations in which decision-makers interact with one another, and in which the happiness of each participant with the outcome depends not just on his or her own decisions but on the decisions made by everyone.” Based on the article, the “players” are students who apply to schools by cheating/fabricating their application, versus students that apply honestly and truthfully. 

Each player can receive a certain payoff based on the strategy they chose, and in this case it’s deciding to be admitted off of false merit and laziness  vs. real merit and hard work. Payoffs in the long run for students who chose to cheat their way into college are struggling to keep up with challenging coursework that they claimed to be able to handle from their falsified grades and fake test scores. Payoffs for those who don’t cheat and rightfully earn their way into college will thrive and be able to keep up with the course rigor. 

Due to the fact a dominant strategy is a best response due to the strategies of other players, it is best to not cheat your way into college and apply to schools that you are a proper fit in, not a fancy elite college that you like simply for the “name” it provides on a resume.



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September 2019