Through the Side Door: A Review of the Netflix Documentary ‘Operation Varsity Blues’

Fair warning: This documentary may make you angry


I’m going to offer a bit of free advice here: do not watch this documentary if you are anywhere in the college application and decision-making process.

Now, this is no reflection on the documentary itself, but the topic that it covers. I would not consider myself a particularly angry person, but within 45 minutes of watching this documentary, I was fairly angry to say the least.

The Netflix documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” follows the largest Department of Justice investigation of the college admissions process in U.S. history. It chronicles the actions of William Rick Singer and his promise of a “side-door” admissions route for America’s wealthy elite. And by “side-door,” he means bribing athletic officials and having proctors tamper SATs and ACTs to ensure admission to America’s top universities.

The documentary itself is very well made, and I believe that it encapsulated the very essence of the topic. That is what makes the documentary so powerful. The casual way Singer would conduct business with parents, which was recreated from the official FBI wiretaps, truly shows how easy it is to manipulate the admissions process. Students all across America work tirelessly for years to build up applications for college, and seeing the way a check can invalidate all of that work so an unqualified student can take the spot is frankly, very discouraging.

The film is comprised of interviews from journalists and those who were involved in the case, scenes that were reconstructed from FBI records, news clips and clips from current college students. All in all, it was an amazing piece of film that took the viewer on an in-depth journey through everything that happened, and really got to the heart of the issue.

The documentary talked about things that people always assumed but never knew for sure. One of the main colleges in the documentary, Stanford University, received over $700,000 in funds in relation to the scheme. However, the college remains adamant that no amount of money has influence on admissions at Stanford. Well, clearly it has, or Stanford wouldn’t be involved at all. 

At the end of the documentary, there is a montage of everybody who is involved in the case. Almost all pleaded guilty and many were sentenced with jail time. However, the mastermind behind it all, William Singer, is still out in society. He hasn’t faced a trial, and according to the documentary, he is aiding the government to bring everyone in his scheme to justice. 

Rick Singer’s “side door” is no longer operational, but this has only brought a small part of the secretive world of college admissions to light. Nobody truly knows the extent of “side-door” existing within the college admissions system.