The Ivy Coach Daily
October 14, 2023
Do Colleges Verify Information on Applications?
Originally Published on August 3, 2019:
Four years ago, the Varsity Blues scandal sent shockwaves through elite college admissions, exposing bribery and cheating schemes that left many slack-jawed.
You remember the stories. There was the student who stood on the bottom of the pool with a water polo ball in hand to showcase how he could more or less walk on water with his pretend eggbeater kick. There was the student who was recruited to row crew despite likely never having picked up an oar. There were the students whose SAT answers were changed by a law-breaking proctor.
But over the admissions cycles that have transpired in the wake of this much-publicized scandal, how exactly have America’s elite universities changed their policies and procedures to flag bad actors? How exactly have our top colleges learned to discern the cheaters from genuine, remarkable students?
Not Many Changes Made to Policies and Procedures in Scandal’s Wake
As Melissa Korn reported for The Wall Street Journal in a piece published shortly after the Varsity Blues scandal on admissions changes, “As college admissions officers gear up for the first application season since learning of a broad cheating scandal, many are looking at how much effort they should put into catching liars—and concluding they aren’t making big changes.”
She continued, “Admissions officers say they look for red flags such as an applicant who submits superb test scores but subpar grades, or an applicant from a wealthy ZIP Code who claims to have grown up with financial challenges. But with a mandate to review applications quickly—some elite schools spend just a few minutes on an application due to the high volume of material—they say they may not notice if four people all say they were MVP of a regional team, or overstate their placement in a debate tournament. Schools also tend not to confirm the race or ethnicity someone claims on paper.”
College Admissions Officers Continued to Trust, But Verify
Just as they did before the Varsity Blues scandal, admissions officers at our nation’s elite colleges in 2023 work on the honor system: they assume applicants are being forthright — as they should.
College Applicants Continue to Self-Report Test Scores
It’s why Advanced Placement exams are self-reported. It’s why most elite colleges don’t even ask for SAT or ACT score reports during the application process (though many will ask for score reports before matriculation to confirm the accuracy of the score(s) reported on the application).
But admissions officers also — much more frequently now than before the scandal broke — heed the words of former President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”
Admissions Officers Check on Inconsistencies
When applicants present test scores entirely inconsistent with their high school records, it may warrant a call to school counselors. When applicants write about how they’re debate champions but struggle to formulate coherent sentences in essays, it raises red flags. When applicants put two spaces after a period like folks did back in the day of word processors and include phrases that sound like their parents wrote their essays, it raises red flags.
But you can bet that even if the policies and procedures at most of our nation’s elite schools haven’t changed drastically over the last few years (some policies have indeed changed, such as the athletic departments independently verifying athletic prowess), admissions officers have been raising their red flags more since 2019 than they did before the Varsity Blues scandal.
The Use of ChatGPT in College Essays Will Assure Rejection
And with ChatGPT now a thing in 2023, you can bet that admissions officers will raise their red flags even more in the coming years! So think twice before you ask ChatGPT to pen your college essays, as such a move will assure a rejection — particularly since there exists software that can detect the use of ChatGPT.
How Do Admissions Officers Verify Information on Applications?
So, how exactly do admissions officers fact-check information on college applications? They may call the applicant’s school counselor if they suspect something is fishy. They may ask the school counselor about the student’s extracurricular involvement and the time they devote to these pursuits. Or they’ll call the leader of an organization listed on an application — even if the student doesn’t list the leader’s name. Or they could peruse a student’s social media footprint. If you inspire admissions officers to verify information, they’re very capable of getting answers.
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