Sybil Low by Sybil Low

Getting into the desired college or the university of your dreams is not an easy feat. Or is it? Should you be brilliant to impress the people on the application committee? Perhaps, it is possible to fake your way to the top? These are the questions that tickle every student’s mind. But they do not come from the thin air. While some choose to take the conscious path, others pick the tricky lane. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • Colleges cross-check application details; lies can lead to serious consequences.
  • Opinions vary on reporting academic misconduct, especially if personal feelings are involved.
  • Despite pressures, many students stay truthful in their college applications.

Do colleges verify if you are lying on a college application?

When students apply to colleges, they may be tempted to exaggerate or even lie to boost their chances of admission. But do colleges actually check the authenticity of the information provided? 

The answer is yes. Colleges often verify details on college applications. While many institutions operate on the honor system and trust applicants to be truthful, they also adhere to the principle of “trust, but verify.” A growing number of colleges allow students to self-report grades and test scores during the application process. However, once the student is accepted and decides to enroll, the college might request final transcripts and official test scores to cross-check the information.

Admission officers, especially at prestigious schools, are trained to spot inconsistencies and red flags in applications. For instance, if a student claims to be a debate champion but submits an essay with poor sentence construction, it might raise suspicion. Similarly, discrepancies between an applicant’s high school record and their reported test scores could prompt an officer to contact the school’s guidance counselor for clarification.

In some extreme cases, lying on a college application can lead to severe consequences, including legal ones. Students might face disciplinary hearings, and if found guilty, the penalties can range from a reprimand to expulsion. It is also worth noting that students can get into legal trouble, like Adam Wheeler, who faced charges of fraud for lying on his application.

Should One Report a Lie On College Application?

In the academic world, integrity takes a big place. A soon-to-be college student shared an interesting case in the online community. A recent high school graduate discovered evidence that a former classmate, who got admitted to an Ivy League university, had someone else write a research paper that they falsely claimed was “co-authored.” This classmate has also previously exhibited racist behavior which only hardens the situation. The individual is contemplating whether to report this academic dishonesty to their old high school, but is concerned about potential repercussions on their own reputation and if it’s too late for the classmate to face consequences.

So, they decided to discuss this issue with the academic community. One user pointed out the layered nature of the situation: 

“Was this a high school paper or a paper done with a researcher? If the latter, there are standards but no hard and fast rules for authorship. It’s strange to see so many high school students listing authorship credit on peer-reviewed publications. Hence, there’s not usually enough time or training to get to that level. Most undergrads aren’t even getting authorship.” 

This perspective underscores the importance of understanding the context in which the action occurred. Moreover, the time frame of the incident matters considerably. As one person observed: 

“If the research paper was during high school, then I feel like you should let it go.” 

However, if the wrongdoing took place in a collegiate setting, many believe there should be consequences. The sentiment is clear: 

“If it was during college, report them. That is academic dishonesty and needs to be snipped in the bud.” 

Many peers in the online community mentioned that intertwining personal feelings with ethical judgments can make the situation murkier. Do not do things out of spite, as one user advised: 

“You’re starting school soon, why would you expend energy trying to take someone down?  I mean not liking them is one thing, but there has to be some other reason for the vendetta. On top of that, I think the general risk of people finding out you reported it is something you should avoid. If it somehow does come back to you it could cause problems, and I don’t see why you would want that at such a busy time in your life.”

Whether to report or not is a double-edged sword. While the taste of justice may be tempting, it is better to leave this job to the professional in college admissions. 

The Integrity of College Admissions: Real Stories

The world of college admissions is more competitive than ever. Some of the top schools only accept 4% or 5% of applicants. This has created massive pressure on students, pushing some to stretch the truth, or even lie, on their applications. Sally Goebel, a former admissions officer at the Wharton School, recalls an incident where a student was admitted based on a touching essay about his mother’s death. But, when the school reached out, his mother answered the phone, very much alive. This student’s offer was taken back.

Integrity of College Admissions

This incident highlights a broader issue: the trust-based nature of college admissions. Officials often don’t verify the facts on every application. They rely mainly on their instincts, experience, and trust in the applicants. The New York Times uncovered a shocking case where T.M. Landry College Preparatory School in Louisiana fabricated student backgrounds and grades to get them into top colleges. They exploited racial stereotypes to craft “hard-luck” stories, assuming these would improve chances of acceptance.

These cases raise questions about the fairness and vulnerability of the admissions process. It’s suggested that colleges, by valuing such hardship stories, might be indirectly encouraging exaggerations. Christopher Hunt, from College Essay Mentor, pointed out that everyone is trying to figure out what admissions officers want. Some students bend their life stories to fit into a perceived “success” mold. Around this time of year, many students are awaiting the results of their applications, anxious to see if their efforts have paid off.

However, it’s essential to note that extreme deception, like the Landry case, isn’t common. Admissions officers often handle tens of thousands of applications, making thorough checks challenging. Colleges don’t always check essays for plagiarism, trusting the honor system instead.

Historically, there have been instances of deceit. James Arthur Hogue got into Princeton University by pretending to be a self-educated rancher. He was later exposed. Apart from such fraud, popular culture has also influenced students. Stories of overcoming adversity, like Liz Murray‘s journey from homelessness to Harvard, have become popular narratives. The Common Application, an online platform used by many colleges, encourages students to share stories of overcoming obstacles.

Colleges rely on students being honest. Some universities even ask students to swear they’re telling the truth. But most don’t act as law enforcement, only checking for glaring inconsistencies. Factors like unmatched test scores and grades, overly mature essay language, or unbelievable extracurriculars can raise red flags.

Interestingly, it’s often adults who might manipulate the admissions process, not the students. Kids fear fact-checking, but, in reality, officers don’t always have the time for thorough checks. Colleges can and do take back offers if they find out a student lied. Still, situations where adults, like school officials or parents, are the primary culprits make responses complicated. Some universities, like St. John’s, offer support rather than punishment in such scenarios.

However, many students stay truthful. Debra Felix, a former Columbia admissions dean, mentioned a student who was truthful about a canoe accident he faced rather than exploiting his background for sympathy. Such students prove that integrity can still shine in competitive situations.


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