In 2018, according to an indictment by the United States Government, Giannulli posed for a photo on an ergometer rowing machine. The photo was later submitted as part of her application to the University of Southern California (USC) with the implication she was a competitive rower, though she was not and had no interest in becoming one. At the same time, it is alleged, her parents paid $500,000 in bribes to a coach at the university to designate her and her older sister Isabella as athletic prospects for the team, enabling them to gain admission to the school. According to the federal criminal complaint against her father, Olivia Jade was confused about how to complete the USC application, and an employee of the alleged conspiracy's ringleader ultimately had to fill it out on her behalf. Teen Vogue has reported that "it is undetermined if Olivia Jade knew about the alleged scheme". She has yet to address the scandal on her YouTube channel or other social media profiles.