Verifying Information on College Applications

Verifying College Applications, Trusting College Applicants, Trust in Admissions
A Wall Street Journal piece published yesterday addresses how admissions offices are responding to the Varsity Blues scandal.

Will our nation’s elite colleges be markedly changing their policies and procedures in place to flag liars and cheats in the wake of the Varsity Blues scandal? After all, the scandal exposed applicants who pretended to be water polo and soccer players when they didn’t actually compete in these sports. The scandal exposed students who didn’t sit and take the SAT all on their own but rather had a paid-off proctor change their answers. So in the first application cycle since news of the scandal of scandals broke back in March, will everything be different? Will some things change while other things stay the same?

Not Many Changes Made to Policies and Procedures in Wake of Scandal

As Melissa Korn reports for The Wall Street Journal in a piece published yesterday entitled “Even After the Admissions Scandal, Colleges Won’t Check Most Applications,” “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. 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 Trust, But Verify

The admissions officers at our nation’s elite colleges work on the honor system: they assume applicants are being forthright. As they should. But they also heed the words of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.” When an applicant presents test scores entirely inconsistent with their high school record, it may very well warrant a call to a school counselor. When an applicant writes about how she’s a debate champion but struggles to formulate a coherent sentence in essays, it raises a red flag. When an applicant puts two spaces after a period like folks did back in the day of word processors and uses phrases that sound like their dad wrote their essays, it raises a red flag. But you can bet that even if the policies and procedures in place at most of our nation’s elite schools haven’t changed drastically (some policies have indeed changed such as the athletic departments verifying athletic prowess), admissions officers will be raising their red flags more this year than last. And that’s a good thing!

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