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“Operation Varsity Blues” takes a deep dive into the tricky business of cheating college admissions, and the dialogue leads the way.


by Mara Callahan, Lifestyles Editor

Sporadic late-night college searching has become a new pastime of mine and one I don’t find particularly calming. The glow off my computer screen illuminates my furrowed eyebrows while my eyes graze the list of degrees offered at DePaul University. The ticking and tocking of my bedside clock reminding me it’s probably too late to be planning out my future.

College applications are always on my mind. Suddenly the thought of getting rejected from my dream college has surpassed clowns as my greatest fear. I attended my virtual sophomore college planning on night March 6, 2021, within a week of watching “Operation Varsity Blue” on Netflix, and it has completely changed the way I view the college admissions process. The documentary borders on suspensefulness as it follows Rick Singer, a self-declared college counselor who became the mastermind behind the college admissions scandal, played by Matthew Modine, as he weaves himself deeper into a web of money and lies. 

Modine’s acting is spot on. Right off the bat, I could tell there was something extra sleazy about Singer from the way Modine portrayed his mannerisms; assuring a client his business is truthful while simultaneously negotiating the price he can weasel out of them—I even started to get creeped out whenever he came on screen. It seemed Modine was able to reveal Singer’s lies without even speaking a word; that’s not to say the storyline wasn’t well thought out. The dialogue, based on recorded conversations between Singer and his clients, was edge-of-your-seat-worthy. 

The first thing this documentary got right was the opening scene. Clips of high school seniors from their YouTube channels as they await the dreaded answer to a yes or no question: will I be accepted or will I get deferred? These clips set the tone for anxiety that leaves the viewer feeling slightly unsettled throughout the whole hour and 40 minutes. Clips and photos similar to these pop in and out of the storyline, constantly putting real-life faces to the people portrayed in the documentary.

The factuality of the documentary is one of two reasons I’d rate it 4.7 stars. From the direct quotes taken out of Singer’s recorded phone line to the ongoing storylines between Singer’s 33 different clients, it’s evident that those behind production were more than familiar with the facts behind the story they wanted to tell. I walked into my living room with no prior knowledge of the scandal and left fully prepared to have a thorough conversation about the grimy details with whoever was willing to listen. 

The second reason I gave “Operation Varsity Blues” a rating of 4.7 stars is its relativity. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.9% of American high school graduates are enrolled in a college. More than half of 16-24 year olds will go through the college admissions process, many of whom might be struggling to come up with the credentials to ensure them a spot at their most desired university. It’s uncomfortable to say, but I can see the appeal of Singer’s mendacious promise—a guaranteed acceptance to any college of your choosing. The relativity of the issue draws young viewers in by forcing them to contemplate their morals and realize the appeal of Singer’s business is built on a pile of fools’ gold.

Not only did I enjoy the documentary so much I watched it thrice, but I picked up on new details throughout each watch. The first time I watched it I was invested in the foundation of how the scandal functioned, but my second time watching it I was interested in each family’s story. “Operation Varsity Blues” is jam-packed with information. The reason the documentary is just shy of a perfect 5 star rating is the level at which it distributed the information. Although the cuts to different storylines and interviews versus scripted dialogue make for an exciting watch, I felt it was choppy at times. All thoughts aside, I highly recommend every high schooler watch “Operation Varsity Blues” on Netflix at least once and decide for themselves if my rating is adequate.