Why Los Angeles was the epicenter of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal

Harvard-Westlake’s upper-school campus sits in the craggy foothills of Coldwater Canyon, a sylvan corner of the city where luxury SUVs careen down winding, wooded roads that splinter off into cul-de-sacs dotted with midcentury architectural master- pieces wedged into the mountainside—or leaning against it on terrifying one-hundred-foot stilts. Here, nature and wealth seamlessly coexist in a kind of stubborn harmony. If you can dream it, you can build it, mudslides and gravity be damned. Situated less precariously, at the foot of the canyon, Harvard-Westlake brings an old-world vibe to these distinctly LA environs.

Harvard-Westlake originally functioned as a finishing school for young white Protestant males—who dined on lobster Newburg and caught glimpses of Clark Gable trotting across campus on horseback—but today the school is much more ethnically if not economically diverse—and is considered a rocket launcher to twenty-first-century success. “It’s the ultimate bumper-sticker school,” declared one LA parent. Gettys, Fairbankses, and Gyllenhaals have all received diplomas from Harvard-Westlake, whose handsome red-roofed campus has led some to dub it a “mini Stanford.”

Some view it more as a corporation than a place of higher learning. The school’s top administrator carries the title of president, along with the more folksy “head of school” moniker adopted by other private schools in the area. Students slog through hours of homework a night in their college-level literary theory and microeconomics courses, and scoff at more progressive institutions across town, like Crossroads School, where there are no AP offerings and academia is considered just one part of a holistic journey. Until recently, a lunch break wasn’t mandatory at Harvard-Westlake, meaning many kids would eat on the run, in order to keep grinding.


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