Sybil Low by Sybil Low

College admissions is a pretty competitive field. No wonder that, to stay in the game with such high pressure to stand out, some students choose to play dirty. And this means sprinkling some lies here and there in your personal statement essay. Some education professionals on Quora decided to shed some light on this often-overlooked aspect of the application process, revealing a range of common lies they encounter in college admission essays.

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Key Takeaways

  • Students under high pressure to stand out in college admissions often resort to fabricating dramatic stories in their essays, such as falsely claiming the death of family members.
  • Overwhelmed by application deadlines, some students turn to online sources for essay inspiration, leading to generic and unoriginal submissions.
  • The prevalence of dishonesty in admission essays has led to a debate on replacing subjective essays with objective entrance tests. This shift is suggested to foster honesty and integrity, ensuring students are judged on actual knowledge and abilities rather than storytelling skills.

As college admission is a high-pressure road, students often find themselves at a crossroads between presenting an authentic self and embellishing their stories to stand out. This balancing act raises significant ethical concerns, as the line between truth and fiction in admission essays becomes increasingly blurred. Education professionals are voicing their concerns about this trend and so share some of the common lies they see in personal statement essays.

Shocking Discoveries by Admissions Counselors

Admissions counselors often encounter startling fabrications in college essays, uncovering lies that go beyond mere embellishments. Among the most shocking are stories about deceased family members that turn out to be entirely false. Michaela Schieffer, a former admissions counselor, shared a particularly jarring experience. She read an essay about a student’s mother passing away from cancer, which profoundly changed his outlook on life.

“I think the most obvious “face-palm” moment I encountered was a long personal statement about an applicant losing his mother to cancer and how this inspired to him to live a more positive life with a new outlook on life….and listed his main contact number as his “mother’s cell phone.” We needed to contact him about an issue with his transcripts. Curious, I double-checked that there was no “step-parent” mention in either his essay or the family information section of the application, but the essay was also written about the very recent passing of his mother, so I did not truly believe there would be a new mother within 3 months, but you never know. I called him on his self-indicated main contact number, only to have a lovely conversation with his startlingly alive mother! So either I stumbled into some newly-acquired gifts as a medium, or that essay was a fabrication.”

These instances are not just isolated occurrences but part of a troubling pattern observed by admissions professionals. Students, under immense pressure to impress, often resort to creating dramatic narratives that are entirely untrue. These lies, while aiming to evoke sympathy or admiration, ultimately undermine the trust between applicants and institutions.

Tutors’ Perspectives on Essay Fabrications

Tutors often witness a trend where students, overwhelmed by deadlines and academic pressure, turn to online sources for essay inspiration. This approach, however, often leads to generic and unoriginal submissions, straying from the student’s genuine voice. A tutor shared their experience, noting,

“It’s not uncommon for students who are running late on their college applications, and who are overwhelmed with the classes they’re taking, to decide to focus on a few applications (the UC system often tops the list, since it’s in-state) and to leave something like the Common App to the end … only to discover that Common App requires FOUR 500 word papers.”

In their panic, these students find essays online, using them as a template for their work. This practice raises concerns about the authenticity of the student’s submissions. The tutor further elaborates,

“They have read it…but they don’t KNOW the work – they can’t answer specifics about it. They’re hoping I’ll read it, ask them leading questions about it, and that they can bluff through it.”

Such behavior not only undermines the purpose of the admission essay but also diminishes the student’s opportunity to genuinely showcase their personality and capabilities.

Student Observations: Peer Dishonesty

The issue of dishonesty in college admission essays is not just limited to exaggerated stories or borrowed narratives. It also extends to peers fabricating aspects of their identity and experiences. A senior student shared firsthand observations of common lies among classmates during the college admission cycle. These fabrications range from false claims about sexual orientation to exaggerated involvement in significant events and leadership roles.

The student remarked on the varied nature of these falsehoods, saying,

“The most common lie I found used by my schoolmates consisted of; ‘I am gay in a society that does not tolerate gays,’ obviously they were not gay.

Other lies noted by the student included false claims about starting businesses or holding prestigious internships, such as “I did an internship at GS and JP Morgan,” which were impressive but untrue. The students also noted that in general, those who lied in their essays did great in terms of university acceptance, whereas those who were true got into less competitive schools despite being capable of going to more prestigious universities.

The Case for Objective Admission Criteria

The growing concern over dishonesty in college admission essays has sparked a debate about the effectiveness of the current application system. Some educators and students advocate for a shift towards more objective admission criteria, such as entrance tests, to minimize the chances of fabrication. This suggestion arises from the observation that subjective essays can often be manipulated or exaggerated, as opposed to standardized tests which provide a more uniform metric for evaluation.

One proponent of this idea expressed their frustration with the current system, stating,

“Admission should have nothing to do with essays or what you claim you did. Admission should be based purely on a national written objective entrance test like IITs and Medical Colleges in India have. In the USA, GPA is inflated in many high schools.”

The argument for objective admission criteria is grounded in the belief that such a system would reduce the pressure on students to embellish their essays, thereby fostering a culture of honesty and integrity. It also addresses the concern that some students may have unfair advantages, such as access to better essay-writing resources or the ability to hire professional writers. However, some educators also noted, that even in the modern system, essays do not play the main role in the admission process:

“I think it’s kind of important to note that the essay (which really should be called a personal statement because of how short it is) isn’t judged exclusively, or even primarily…It’s all in how you write it and how you convey your personality. A lot of the time they’re looking for introspection and a good narrative.”

The Main Point

Education Professionals Share Common Lies They See in College Admission Essays

In the end, when it comes to getting into college, being honest really matters. It’s not just about getting a spot at a university, but about starting your higher education journey on the right foot. Colleges need to see the real you – your true skills, your actual experiences, and your genuine interests. When students make up stories in their essays, it’s not just unfair to others; it’s also not giving colleges a true picture of who they are.

So, let’s keep it real. Being honest in your college application is the best way to show colleges what you’re really about. And remember, you’re good enough just as you are – there’s no need to make up stories to impress anyone.


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