The reality of getting an

A-plus in college admissions

The reality television show “The Scholar” doesn’t delve into romance or private behind-the-door happenings; just into the minds, intellect, ethics and resolve of its contestants.

By Bridget Graham-Gungoren/ Special to The Malibu Times

The average cost of one year of school at an Ivy League college is $41,000. Add in community service, leadership and test scores, then admission and funding for a college education can be quite the challenge.

Both have taken on a whole new meaning for 10 candidates on “The Scholar,” a part-“Amazing Race,” part-“Survivor” and part-“Jeopardy” reality show taped on USC’s campus and created by locals Shannon Meairs and Jaye Pace.

On the series, which will award almost $240,000 in scholarship and prize money, the candidates vie for a full-ride scholarship to the university of their choice that accepted their application.

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Meairs, a Pepperdine University alumna and four-year Pepperdine admissions counselor, along with Pace, a Santa Monica resident who was an admissions counselor for two years at Columbia, designed the show to share the hidden secrets of getting into and paying for a school of one’s choice.

“The college admission process is mysterious,” Meairs said in a recent telephone interview. “There was a potential market for parents and students to understand how to get into college.”

“There has to be a way to educate kids on scholarship money,” Pace added.

Pace had received a full-ride to Washington State, but chose to attend Columbia and had to find the financial means to do so. She was thus motivated to work with students to teach them that “no one should have to go through the same experience,” she said.

And while there are challenges and it is a competition, Meairs said of the show, “We didn’t go with the angle to eliminate because these are high school students-we wanted America to see and get to know these kids, to celebrate their accomplishments and who they are.”

Each week, Ivy League judges dish out scores for the week’s top three contestants to land in a final showdown quiz, after challenges such as solving academic puzzles or promoting school spirit are played out. The final quiz continues the challenge with academic questions about history, literature and other scholarly subjects. The prizes range from bikes and items for their dorm room to monetary awards of $50,000.

“The competition is about the pillars of the college admission process,” Meairs said.

They include academics, community service, leadership, work ethic and teamwork.

The show came to fruition after Meairs and Pace met at a local church and, with producer Elizabeth Williams, constructed the show that soon had producers Joan Stein and comedian Steve Martin of Martin-Stein Co. on board as well. After Carsey-Werner production became part of the team, they pitched it to ABC.

“It was a pretty surreal process sitting in a network pitch meeting with nine program execs,” Meairs said. “But Jaye and I just shared our hearts and passion for getting kids into college.” The network loved the idea.

With almost 5,000 applications, Pace joked, “It was more competitive than getting into Harvard.”

The candidates for the show are chosen on academic criteria, financial need and whether “they were good for TV.”

The show filmed the first five and a half episodes in January and February. Taping resumed in April when the contestants found out which schools they were accepted.

“The show was independent of their own college admission process,” Meairs said.

Meairs said she heard that last year alone 5,000 reality shows were pitched, 21 were picked up and eight went into production. Both Meairs and Pace credit their knowledge, but also their faith. “God had a huge hand,” Pace said. “It’s just sort of a miracle.”

Meairs and Pace also agree that their desire isn’t to produce reality TV.

“My passion is with high school students-I happened to be able to expose the process on TV,” said Meairs, who has gone on to found her own consulting company, Full Ride, and has co-authored a college admission book with Pace.

“This affirms my calling to change and inspire lives of young people,” Pace said.

She explained that during the application process for the show, one young man was only applying to schools he thought he could pay for. The process of the show challenged him to apply to Harvard and Yale-and he got in.

And with a love for theater, Pace has written a musical about the admission process (with hopes of Broadway), and next summer will be directing an independent movie she wrote. Titled “Acceptance,” it is about admission to college and love from one’s family.

The final episode of “The Scholar” airs July 18. Additional information can be found at www.fullride.com and www.abc.com.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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