SPOKANE, Wash. — This is the time of year high school seniors are learning if they have been accepted into their choice school.
As the college letters come, more details come to light after federal investigators revealed a massive university bribery scandal.
Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband pleaded not guilty Monday. Loughlin's plea came one week after 13 other parents pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors say parents paid a college test prep organization to help students cheat on standardized tests. College coaches were also allegedly bribed to label applicants as athletic recruits.
Investigators say parents involved in the scandal paid a total of $25 million to get their children into the best universities money can buy.
Some Eastern Washington students, on the other hand, paid their way to top colleges with hard work and determination. They aced tests, earned perfect marks and impressed admissions officers.
Jakob Nordhagen, a senior at Gonzaga Preparatory, was admitted into Stanford University and Harvard University. He said Stanford was his first choice but Harvard was a close second. He explained he was a ball of nerves the day he was supposed to find out if he was admitted into Stanford.
"I could not stop fidgeting the whole day. I had butterflies in my stomach. And I find out it was like a huge release,” Nordhagen said.
Nordhagen made the news early this school year when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. But the work did not stop after he landed the highest score possible. He balanced school and the rigorous admissions process for the two universities with the lowest acceptance rate in the country.
"I spent a lot of time crafting my essays, because I really wanted them to reflect who I really am and convey my true self to them. All the hard work I put in over the years and all the sacrifices my parents made and everything that has gone into my education is all worth it,” Nordhagen said.
Nordhagen said he plans on attending Stanford and he might be joined by Dylan Schuler of Mead High School. Schuler was accepted into Stanford and Georgetown University. He has not decided where he will go.
After being denied acceptance to Harvard and the University of Chicago, Schuler was nervous about his Stanford admission.
"I wasn't really certain I'd be able to get in, but I was really really excited when the first word was 'congratulations'. They have just so many applicants that have the 4.0 and good test scores.” Schuler said.
Students must set themselves apart, so they participate in sports, clubs and community service.
Maddy Christiansen, a senior at St. George’s School, said she participated in three sports in one school year. At times, it was overwhelming.
"Traveling to games, going to practice, having to have all that and working on essays and like school work and making sure my grades are up. It was really tough,” Christiansen said. "It's hard to get excited, because you're so stressed out. And I also didn't want to get my hopes up about these places because you never know."
Christiansen applied for early admission to Cornell University, a university her mother, grandparents, and brother attended. She was deferred. She, admittedly, lost a bit of hope that she would get in, but she was accepted to Cornell and Notre Dame.
"When I opened it I was just like in disbelief that I got in. The fact that they picked me and liked what I sent in and thought that I could do well,” Christiansen said.
Christiansen’s classmate Kyrie Woodard was also a bit anxious about her admission to Columbia University. After a visit to New York, she fell in love with the Ivy League university.
"When I opened it I was crying so much that my sister thought I got rejected. I come from a low income background and so it took a lot extra work for me to be able to apply for schools that I knew I could afford and that I would be able to go to,” Woodard said.
Jasmine Wen, a senior at Central Valley High School, was accepted to Duke University. She said she spent all four years of high school focusing on her goal to attend a prestigious university.
"Always have that mindset like ‘okay, I want to go to this type of school’ and that will align with what you're going to do and you're always going to be thinking in that direction,” Wen said. "It's worth it in the long run."
Sierra Stinson, a senior at University High School, had the same sentiment as she discussed her reaction to getting into Notre Dame.
"I was so scared. I didn't want to open it. So I just peeked a little bit and I saw the 'congratulations' and I screamed and started bawling. Notre Dame has always had my heart and that's where I have always wanted to go. I just never thought there would be a chance that little ol’ me would be able to get into something like Notre Dame,” Stinson said.
The words “congratulations, you’ve been accepted” brings relief, excitement and accomplishment to these budding scholars. These words are the culmination of the hard work and sacrifices they have made to gain acceptance into their choice universities.
The university bribery scandal is disheartening for those who got into college the right way with integrity and perseverance.
“It's devastating to know that there are kids out there that are doing the best they can and working as hard as they can and they can't afford it, but there are people who, simply because they can pay as much as they want, they get in," said Woodard.
“Like all the hours that I spent, you know, to make sure that I had a shot to get into these places, well those people were just able to buy their way in,” Christiansen said.
Most of these exceptional students have yet to decide where they will attend next fall. The deadline to commit is in May.