An Applicant on College App Dishonesty


The college admissions process tries to be a good one for the most part. It tries to see applicants for who they are, admit kind and intelligent people who are ambitious enough to use the resources they will be offered in a given university to the fullest and positively influence the world. However, it requires quite a lot from competitive applicants, asking for stellar standardized test scores and grades, impactful and bold extracurriculars, and a quirky personality, especially in top colleges across the nation. A lot of the good qualities achieving such a record may help a student gain are unfortunately often undermined in a furious rush for college admissions and end up breeding dishonesty.

As an upcoming senior I’ve seen in the past three years, and especially the past few months, ambitious youngsters hoping to reach honored places of higher learning become cutthroat and confused adolescents who will lie, cheat, and bribe their way to colleges that they may not enjoy and probably won’t live up to their expectations. These students seem to thrive on the prestige that HYPSM* and others bring with them. In just the last few months, I’ve seen kids withdraw into themselves, only to come out determined to get every leadership position that will match their “college narrative,” paying other students for essay help, and I’ve heard: paying other students not to apply to their chosen colleges to lessen the competition. The melee has only gotten worse as colleges have become increasingly “holistic” in their reviewing of applications, trying to make incoming freshman classes ever more diverse in as many ways as possible.

Now instead of focusing on their studies and standardized tests, students have to do more extracurriculars, get more leadership roles in them, and somehow show impact. As a result, college admissions has become one huge chess game where those who get advice and start planning early, those who make sure their grades almost never noticeably dip, are the ones who are able to get into the only colleges their peers will congratulate them (enviously) for. This, of course, is understandably difficult, and students end up lying on their applications. They say they became treasurer during sophomore year when they really just got the position senior year. They say they were track team captain when they weren’t even on the track team. And the thing is: in large public high schools, few people except the applicant read these activity lists (this may very well be true of any high school). Colleges can only assume that the applicant will be honest and not over-exaggerate or lie.

I’m writing this because I want people to be aware of just how much dishonesty has been going on in college applications, on both micro and macro scales. Trying to get a diverse class based on character and interest of prospective students is a brilliant idea in theory, but without all of those factors being checked, there is no method of knowing whether one student truly was the president of a successful club who made a huge impact in his/her community. In some situations, an admissions officer could look it up online, see what presence the student may have left on the Internet, but it’s neither reliable nor accurate. Contacting the school and doing thorough searches is a significant amount of work for school advisors and guidance counselors.

Self-reporting systems can easily be cheated. Kids can hire someone else, get unfair help, and bribe other students not to apply, in a way that can make many others feel intimidated or overlooked. Holistic review is supposed to take into consideration family situations, but even that is not entirely accurate. Some kids are simply not aware of dire financial situations because of parents who make them focus on getting into college. And sometimes it is dire financial situations that make HYPSM’s financial aid so attractive and lying worth the guilt.

My suggestion is that admissions officers pay less attention to situations where cheating may be more rampant, such as in extracurricular activities and put more emphasis on student essays and teacher recommendations. Many may already do this. But I think the most important thing is that students who are going through tough situations and being faced with dishonesty meeting success try their best to ignore the cheaters. Just focus on being honest with yourself: will you truly be happy knowing that you may have gotten in because of something that isn’t true? I know that a lot of situations vary and you may be very desperate to gain admission into these schools but please think before you act and please be honest in this process. This is a life thing, and you’re all brilliant students for getting to the point of even considering these schools. Be honest. Everywhere. Finally, parents: please be aware of what kids are going through during admissions months and keep reminding them that their worth does not depend on what college they are admitted to.

Proactive, intelligent people can do well anywhere. It’s up to the person. It’s up to how he/she lives his/her life. And as a fellow student and a human I want to please remind and urge everyone to share this message in any form they can and encourage applicants to be truthful and kind, as any fellow human and admissions officer would want them to be.

*Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and MIT — thought of as the five most competitive and prestigious universities in the U.S. for undergrads

P.S. I realize now that I seem very supportive of the requirements the college process has of students. I wrote this with the idea in mind that many still truly wish to attend these institutions and that the admissions process at the very least tries to be fair. However, any such process is bound to be flawed and I want you to all to think first whether you wish to join in on the game. I, and I know many others, think that the best way to approach it all is by doing what you love and answering the questions and filling out the forms with the truth. If you get in, great! If not, also great! Please don’t do things simply to check off boxes like “leadership,” “impact,” etc.