Scammers for Crammers

An Introduction to Pay to Play Corporations


Image from NeONBRAND

Jac McCarty

Imagine a normal morning. You wake up, scrub your teeth with foamy blue gel to get rid of your morning breath, then proceed to stare dazedly at a pile of mail because who still sends letters in this day and age?

Only, lo and behold. There’s an abnormally thick envelope sitting on the table. An envelope with a doctor’s name in the corner and the words “Harvard Square” written in Times New Roman on the back. Harvard Square, by the way, is not actually part of Harvard University. It’s just down the street.

For reference, that’s like saying you’ve performed on Broadway when in actuality you once juggled pinto beans to off-key violin on the corner of Broadway and Pearl.

Let’s say you open it, as people tend to do with envelopes, only to find that you have been “selected for recognition as a Delegate” (note the capital letter) for your school at the “Congress of Future Medical Leaders” because of your “leadership potential” and “outstanding grades.”

If this scenario sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it is.

If you tend to read the letters you receive, instead of just basking in the freedom of being able to throw those letters away, then you would probably notice that these “outstanding grades” they speak of can actually be described as “a minimum 3.25,” a qualification that definitely seems laudable enough to be recognized as qualified for this “Congress of Future Medical Leaders” who will be the “promising future leaders of medicine.”

You will simultaneously notice that there are far too many papers in this overly, obnoxiously thick envelope, which may be a possible reason for why it is so unnecessarily thick and important-feeling.

Within these papers, scattered messily in several unreasonably distant locations, you will discover that in order to attend this “Congress of Future Medical Leaders,” in which you witness a surgery and meet several new people you have never heard of, you will need to:

  1. Verify that your GPA does, in fact, meet the standard of the minimum 3.25 requirement, and
  2. Give them money, as indicated by the section on a much thinner sheet of off-gray paper that addresses the possibility of refunds. There was no mention of price anywhere within the remainder of the insurmountable mound of papers.
  3. Unless there was, and you just missed it, because you are currently drowning within the remainder of said insurmountable mound of papers.
  4. Oh there it is. That’s a lot of money.

If you hold enough interest to continue sifting through this mountain of papers, you will find that the price of this three-day romp in surgical prepaid paradise (dubbed “tuition” by their website) is $985. If you happen to check the website on top of that, you will find that this “tuition” does not cover board, transportation, or meals. You will also find the cost of one “transferable college credit” (advertised within one of the fancier papers located within the envelope) to be an extra $275.

“The Congress,” as I’ve taken to calling it, is not alone in sending out these overly weighty letters however. Joining it in its ranks are such wordy names as the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, the National Society of High School Scholars, and the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists. “Pay-to-play” organizations such as these have been referenced in national publications going back decades, each enunciating their inherent scamminess. And yet, high schoolers still open golden-embossed envelopes gushing about the honor and the privilege of being selected, envelopes that take the spotlight off opportunities and scholarships that are actually merit-based.

It’s probably summed up best by user Chirality, who we can only hope is as reliable as their spotlessly empty bio page says they are: “I won’t be attending this event out of principle.”

BHS counsellor Marc Goulet, a perhaps more credible source, describes it more tactfully: “I think some of [these organizations] — I can’t speak for all of them, I’d have to see specific ones — I’d say some of them prey on our instinct for recognition, but at a cost to us.”

But perhaps BHS student Lara Spijkerman put it best, during an overly-loud block lunch interview in which the word ‘Scientology’ was brought up in a rather interesting side conversation two feet immediately to the left. “If you’re able to pay for this experience,” she said, struggling to be heard over the mass chaos that is block lunch, “then you’re able to pay for lots of other things that would look good on a resume.”

And there you have it. That mound of gold-embossed papers really is as useless as everyone thought it was. So kick back, relax, and revel in the freedom of throwing it all away.

Or recycling it. Your preference.