Cheating Harvard and Lying on Your Application

Once upon a time, an illustrious student applied to Harvard claiming to be from one of the best prep schools and one of the best colleges in the country with amazing scores and great grades.  He lied.

While this has been widely reported in the media, most of the reports have been very easy on Harvard’s admission office.  One of the experts in the field went so far as to say that, given the thousands of applications schools receive, documents just can’t be verified.

Poor Harvard.  So many applications, so little time.

One the one hand, that’s just plain silly.  This guy faked transcripts.  Maybe I can see, given the right computers and blah blah, slipping that document past someone.  If, however, a school has at least a couple of nickels to rub together (and who has more nickels than Harvard?!), perhaps they could invest in a nice document imaging system.  Nearly every reputable college in the country (and the applicant was claiming to have attended MIT) uses really fancy transcript paper that shows all kinds of stuff when you scan the document.  This makes copying or scanning the document challenging – and lets us know it’s a real document.  Did the student go so far as to obtain that paper?  If not, how the heck did he get it past the office?

Let’s, however, give poor over-worked Harvard (cue violins) the benefit of the doubt on the transcripts.  They also accepted the applicant’s fraudulent SAT scores.  I can’t speak for every institution, but Mason downloads scores directly from CollegeBoard.  We go back and verify with CB data most that come in from the high school or the student directly. 

On the other hand, since the student was transferring, maybe the Harvard admissions office wasn’t that worried about his scores (which makes sense), and since those scores were REALLY GOOD (and whose wouldn’t be, if we were picking them ourselves), why check further?  Fine – I’ll consider letting Harvard off the hook.

Let’s move on to how this exposes the DIRTY SECRET OF COLLEGE ADMISSIONS. 

 Wait for it.

 Applicants lie. 

 The even dirtier secret is – admissions offices probably don’t catch most of those liars.  Applicants submit all kinds of recommendation letters, lists of extra-curriculars, and claims of awards and achievements.  For the most part, colleges make no effort to verify the authenticity of these submissions.  There are rare exceptions.  With the internet so readily accessible, an applicant claiming to have appeared on “Big Brother” and “America’s Got Talent” is easily referenced.  The applicant, however, falsely claiming to have won the “East Podunk Service Commitment to Youth that are Far Less Lucky Award” is unlikely to get caught.

In fairness, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, these factors are FAR less important to admission decisions than academic records (and, the recent Harvard debacle aside, false academic records are much harder to slip past our processes).  I should also note, for all those tempted by the knowledge of admissions offices lax verification, that the penalty for getting caught is generally steep.  Most admissions offices, if they believe that any – ANY – part of the application has been falsified, will deny the applicant.  You won’t get a reason – just the denial. 

 So we’re not that good at catching you, but we have a REALLY strong disincentive.  How many of you think that works?  Be seeing you.


Urgent deadlines and other holiday humbug

I realize that the holiday time should be filled with good cheer, but somehow marketing efforts during this period always manage to Grinch up my mood. I’m already, for instance, completely sick of the Best Buy ad with holiday carolers singing some wretched holiday ditty with the words replaced by excruciatingly cheery descriptions of the wonderful bargains available.

College and university recruitment are sadly not immune to this vandalization of holiday sentiment. Most of you will likely receive scads (a technical term meaning, “lots”) of holiday cards, postcards, emails, text, voicemails, and, possibly, carrier pigeons letting you know how very very deeply XYZ college and ABC University feel about you having a merry outlook.


Of course, to make sure you know just where our thoughts REALLY are, nearly all of these lovely missives (technical term meaning, “junk mail”) will remind you of an UPCOMING APPLICATION DEADLINE that YOU SHOULD NOT MISS. Also, BE VERY AFRAID of missing THIS URGENT DEADLINE because all of your friends, enemies, frenemies, and acquaintances have already applied because everyone (EVERYONE) wants to come to OUR school and you may be missing your ONLY CHANCE if you don’t ACT NOW.


Not that deadlines aren’t important…they are. And yes, I’ll insert the requisite shameless plug here that Mason’s final application deadline is January 15th. It’s not the deadline reminders that snuff my menorah – it’s the constant effort to elicit some level of panic in a process already chock full (technical term for, “very full”) of stress.

This is supported by media stories with bizarre statements like, “the admissions landscape is more unsure than ever before,” or, “competition for space will be tougher than ever this year.” In twenty years in admissions I have yet to get through this season without seeing these phrases used over and over again. I have no idea what the “admissions landscape” is (I picture a nice pastoral print), but I can tell you that competition is pretty much what it is every year – competition at many schools, less so others, and really easy at a bunch. Of course, you may not know which one is which, but why spoil all of the surprises?

In the spirit of the season, I’m going to try to forgive all my colleagues in admissions and the media who feed this frenzy, even the ones that send out really annoying holiday cards. In the meantime, I’m headed to Best Buy – I hear they have a great deal on Festivus poles, and I NEED to air my grievances…possibly while I’m in the store, and potentially in the form of a rewritten holiday carol. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Be seeing you.

Transfer Post: New GI Bill Expands Educational Benefits

The new GI Bill, called the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, expands educational benefits for post 9/11 veterans. Its full provisions are available on the Library of Congress Website. It was proposed and originally sponsored by Senator James Webb (D-VA).

For veterans who have served 36 consecutive months in the military, including Reserve units, since September 11, 2001, the law will cover the full cost of tuition at a state’s most expensive public university, plus a $1,000 per-year stipend for books and supplies, along with a monthly housing stipend based on the college’s location. Check out GI Bill 2008, which contains a run-down of the most expensive public university in each state. For those who have served a shorter time since 9/11, the benefits are pro-rated, starting at 40% for 90 consecutive days of service. The individual’s entitlement to these benefits expires 15 years after the date of his/her last discharge or release from active duty. Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill will increase immediately by about 20% and the Webb program benefits will begin in August 2009.

Tips for applying as a transfer student

Transferring from one college to another can be a cumbersome and confusing process for some. However when you are considering transferring, there are many things you can do to make it a more simple and successful transition. Some tips to remember in preparation are: 1) Meet with your advisor at your current school. They would know about any transfer programs or agreements with other schools that can guide you. They could also help you know more about the admissions standards and application requirements. 2) Speak with an admission or transfer counselor at the school you are interested in attending. Many four year schools now have counselors or offices specifically for transfer students. 3) Do your homework by perusing the website and getting familiar with the programs and requirements, especially concerning the program that interests you. 4) Be prepared by collecting all of your documents, including transcripts and catalogs with course descriptions. 5) Make sure you complete your application to the school of your choice by the deadline!
Once admitted, your next step is to sign up for an Orientation Session and meet with an advisor to discuss your transfer credits and the requirements for your degree.

Transfer Students: Does my military credit count?

If you are in the armed forces and have military credit or you are hoping to transfer, check out this article on The article provides useful information about SOCs (Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges), getting transfer credit for military training, and it has several useful websites for members of the armed forces looking to continue their education.

Transfer Students: New Scholarship Opportunity

Transfer students interested in the following academic majors are now eligible to apply for the U.S. Department of Education’s National SMART Grant: physical or life sciences, computer science, engineering, mathematics, technology, and certain critical foreign languages.

The National SMART Grant offers up to $4000 a year for a student’s third and fourth year of study. For additional details and requirements, check out: