Fact Checking in College Admissions

This is a statue of Ben Franklin is in front of College Hall on the University of Pennsylvania's campus.
Admissions officers at the University of Pennsylvania often don’t have time to fact-check applications.

Originally Published on February 1, 2019:

Do admissions officers at highly selective colleges fact-check every detail on each application? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, with some exceptions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has historically fact-checked random batches of applications, admissions officers at elite universities rarely fact-check much of anything. And why?

Admissions Officers Lack Time to Fact-Check Every Detail

Simply put, they don’t have the time to do so. As the University of Pennsylvania’s former Dean of Admissions Eric Furda stated in a piece in The Daily Pennsylvanian by Gianna Ferrarin on the topic of fact-checking applications, “With an eight percent admit rate if we’re not quite sure about something, guess what, we don’t have to take the risk.” Well said, Dean Furda!

And since UPenn’s overall admission rate has declined even further in the years since — to 5.7% for the Class of 2025 and 6% for the Class of 2026, you can imagine it’s only gotten more difficult for their admissions officers to fact-check.

Admissions Officers Rarely Double-Check Minor Details on Applications

If, for instance, a student lists she did an activity for 12 hours a week when she only did it for 10 hours a week, it’s unlikely to raise a red flag in admissions. Now, if the student suggested she did an activity for 40 hours a week when she didn’t do that activity at all, that could raise a big red flag.

As Ferrarin writes in the piece for The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Given the massive volume of applications the University receives…current and former admissions officers agree that fact-checking applications is not feasible and instances of outright fabrication seem to be rare.” But there are some exceptions. Ferrarin cites the case of a student who wrote his Personal Statement about his mom’s death. When a UPenn admissions officer called his home, his mom picked up the phone. The student’s admission was promptly rescinded.

Admissions Officers Do Red Flag Major Discrepancies on Applications

That said, in the wake of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, admissions officers are on high alert if a student fabricates whole swaths of their application. If a student, for instance, is being recruited for water polo and cites a 1:08 in his 100-yard freestyle, that’s a red flag (it’s a slow time).

Likewise, if a student claims to have won a particular award yet their name isn’t listed online on a quick search of the award’s winners, that’s a red flag. In all such instances, the students have nixed their chances of admission for dishonesty.

Can You Lie on College Applications?

Even if students earn admission after being dishonest on their applications, they should remain anxious because of their unprincipled actions. After all, their admission can be revoked years later — once they’re enrolled students — if it ever comes to light that they earned entry based on a lie.

The Importance of Honesty on College Applications

So even though America’s top college admissions officers rarely fact-check, particularly in light of the surge in applications over the last few years since the pandemic, students would be foolish to be dishonest on their applications. Not only because it will jeopardize their chances of admission (or lead to a revocation of their admission years later) but because it’s just plain wrong.


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1 Comment

  • John says:

    Do elite colleges go back and fact check the applications of accepted students or is all verification done during the application process?

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