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Getting your kid into college: Where to draw the line when offering help

These days, it seems some parents are willing to do whatever it takes to get their kids into what they think is the "right" college. While cheating and bribing, which are core allegations in the recent Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, is a clear no-no, other parental "help" — such as editing, writing or rewriting an application essay — is becoming more common. Part of the problem is that the process of applying to college is confusing — and competitive, particularly for the most selective universities, said Elizabeth Heaton, vice president of educational counseling at Bright Horizons' College Coach.

Then there is the so-called helicopter parent, who is trying to protect their child from any pain. Ethics expert Andrew Cullison said several things come into play when parents consider breaking the rules. They "may be justifying this, in part, because they think there is something broken about the system," said Cullison, director of The Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. For example, they may suspect the college isn't playing by the rules, either — such as accepting legacy students over someone who might be better qualified, he said. Also, if they think SAT scores aren't a good indicator of a student's ability, parents may convince themselves that the college is using a broken metric, he said.

Of those surveyed, 67 percent said it favors the "rich and powerful. Before you even think about writing your child's essay, whether it is a couple of sentences or the entire thing, remember that colleges are looking at them to understand the student and are not seeking the most polished writing, Sklarow said.

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Schools can also rescind an admission if they determine the student wasn't truthful or accurate on the application, he added. Yale University just rescinded the admission of one of the students involved in the admissions scandal. The University of Southern California also blocked students linked to the scheme from registering for classes and getting their transcripts. I'm going to do the talking for you' and that's a terrible message to send," Bright Horizons' Heaton said.

That can mean reading an essay and offering advice on how it can be improved.

Most DIFFICULT Colleges To Get Into

The bottom line: Think about the appropriate school for your child, which may not necessarily be an Ivy League institution or the most selective college. More from Personal Finance: Wealthy college applicants have an edge, analysis shows The business of college advisors is booming It's not too late to get college aid. Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC delivered to your inbox. Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about our products and services. Privacy Policy. All Rights Reserved.

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Why Amazon PillPack asks new hires to sort pills while wearing Flopping them open on the dining-room table, I searched for what these insiders had to say about the schools my son had expressed interest in. As for the most popular majors at BSU, they were psychology, economics, and business — when I was reading Princeton Review. At Choosing the Right College the yield zoomed to 58 percent. These discrepancies usually arose only on matters of objective importance, such as the most popular majors at a school, its acceptance rate, and the odds of getting knifed on your way to the library.

The guides showed an impressive uniformity: every school was nearly perfect. I ventured beyond the schools my son was interested in, looking for variety. Suddenly I was mad to read about a school where the profs were mouth-breathers and the parties were as fun as an autopsy, where psychopaths overran the fraternities and a half-asleep third grader could pass the chemistry class. But of course I never found it, not in these books.

In choosing students to respond to the surveys, college administrators are unlikely to ask the pipehead passed out in the dormitory stairwell for his candid views. These surveys are filled out by the kind of young people who volunteer to fill out surveys — a principle of self-selection certain to yield a highly upbeat group of youngsters.