Update on June 7, 2022: We’ve changed our view of this story after further reading and investigating. We now stand firmly with Mackenzie. In fact, we believe the University of Pennsylvania did wrong by her — not the other way around. Read why.
Original Posting on May 15, 2022: Back in January, we wrote about the University of Pennsylvania graduate who was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship but whose life story of abuse soon unraveled before her eyes. Mackenzie Fierceston gained publicity for alleged abuse she suffered from her “two-faced” mother, alleged abuse that led to criminal charges against her mother (her arrest record was later expunged when these claims were not substantiated) and Mackenzie’s entry into the foster care system. It was this story that Mackenzie told in her Common Application Personal Statement when she applied to — and ultimately earned admission to — the University of Pennsylvania. It was this story that Mackenzie told when she applied for — and ultimately was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. But when Mackenzie got some press attention for being awarded the Rhodes, that’s when things really started to spiral.
Mackenzie was soon accused by the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater, of lying about her story as folks who knew her before her college years described her life of privilege, a life that included horseback riding and trips to the beach. While Mackenzie claimed to be a first-generation college student — meaning neither parent attended college — Mackenzie’s mother is a respected physician in St. Louis (Mackenzie would claim, as a foster youth, she technically had no parent). Questions about Mackenzie’s background would lead to investigations by a subcommittee for the Rhodes Trust as well as a student disciplinary committee at UPenn. She would soon be stripped of her Rhodes Scholarship that would lead her to file litigation against her alma mater. And on and on goes Mackenzie’s downfall as so brilliantly detailed in a super juicy New Yorker piece by Rachel Aviv entitled “How An Ivy League School Turned Against A Student” that reads like the Anna Delvey saga. Our readers must check it out.
So what’s the big picture here, beyond Mackenzie’s saga? Don’t ever lie on your college applications. Don’t fabricate a story to try to pull on the heartstrings of admissions officers. Don’t try to game the system by claiming to be a first-generation college student when you are not. Don’t write, as Aviv dubs it, “poverty porn” if it’s not reflective of your true life’s narrative. Even if you do end up getting into the college of your dreams — as Mackenzie did — it just might come back to haunt you and even lead to the revocation of your offer of admission — or your degree.
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