The story of University of Pennsylvania student Mackenzie Fierceton, who lost a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for allegedly falsifying background details in her application, has gone viral this week. But many experts told The Post that it’s not uncommon for high school students to spread the truth about their college entrance essays to get noticed by top schools.
Some children will claim in their essays that they have “published” a novel or memoir, when in fact their parents have hired a self-publishing company to produce what looks like a legitimate book. Other teenagers will write of their “meaningful” volunteer work in developing countries, when their mothers and fathers funded trips abroad just so they could have college fodder. Today, some students even go so far as to file their own patents for research they never completed.
“There are Chinese companies that charge a few thousand dollars and will do all the hard work to get your child to file for a science patent,” an education consultant who did not want to be identified told the Post. “And the admissions people are seeing a lot more of that as competition for schools gets even fiercer and opportunities for extracurricular activities dry up during COVID.”
The sudden influx of fraudulent student credentials is one of the most disturbing cases of “student achievement fraud” included in admissions records, according to an Ivy League admissions officer speaking at the September conference of the National Association of College Admission Counselors, a non-profit organization. which represents more than 25,000 education professionals.
“Now, whenever we see a student bragging about a patent, we’re all hyper-vigilant,” said the education consultant who attended the Seattle conference.
Many professionals who help students prepare for the 650-word personal essay component of the Common Application, an application used by more than one million students applying to more than 800 US colleges, say the essay prompt the most popular is how students overcome obstacles in their lives.
“Basically, these schools are pushing kids to have trauma in their lives before they’re 17,” said a Manhattan-based tutor, adding that they’ve worked with deserving students who’ve never encountered trauma. ‘huge hurdles in life, and as a result cannot compete for top schools, such as Yale, Princeton or Harvard.
“I had a student from Queens who was a brilliant student but never faced any obstacles,” the Manhattan-based tutor told the Post, adding that she called a college’s admissions department. d’élite” where the student wanted to apply and was told she would just be ignored.
When a student wanted to write about the trauma he had experienced in middle school, his tutor took him away from the topic and suggested he focus on how he helped a trans brother deal with life changes. a “loving and kind manner”. The tutor said that writing about not fitting in at college is an all too common theme.
“Everyone at one time or another probably struggled to fit in at college,” the tutor said. “We needed to find a story that would resonate with an admissions person who has about 30 seconds to read an essay.”
Frances Kweller, who runs Kweller Prep, a college tutoring and counseling service in Manhattan and Queens, agreed it was nearly impossible to stand out.
“It’s very difficult to be a standard student applying to college these days,” Kweller said.
“What we see a lot is kids digging deep for difficulties,” added Ron Foley, a math teacher who runs Foley Prep Inc, a tutoring and college prep service that has multiple locations. in New Jersey. “It forces kids to think that difficulties are the most interesting thing about them, and that may not be the case.”
In her applications to Penn and Rhodes, Fierceton, 24, claimed she would be the first in her family to go to college, giving her a “first generation” status prized by many top colleges trying to recruit children from poor backgrounds. . But, in fact, his mother and grandfather attended college. Fierceton also gave detailed statements about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother, but the criminal charges were later dropped after authorities had doubts about those allegations.
As universities increasingly make standardized test scores optional in an effort to achieve fairness and justice, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, there is even greater emphasis on the personal essay component of college application. , Foley said.
“The irony of going ‘test optional’ is that it opens the door to more shenanigans,” he told the Post.
And schools receiving up to 100,000 applications a year struggle to verify every detail of a student essay, he added.
But even before the pandemic, students would do anything to gain an edge. In 2016, a parent took to social media to complain about a friend of his son who started a charity in his name dedicated to the deaf.
“She recorded it, made a website, a logo, the works, but did NOTHING with it,” the unidentified relative said on an online forum set up by College Confidential, an education consulting firm for users asking questions about college admissions. The parent went on to say that the student put the charity on her list of extracurricular activities and was accepted to Stanford that year.
As schools increasingly seek diversity on their campuses, white students are lying about their ethnicity in order to gain an advantage, according to a 2021 survey that found 34% of white students admitted to lying to be a racial minority. Of those students, 48% admitted to lying about being Native American and 75% of those who lied were accepted into schools of their choice, according to Intelligent, a Seattle-based company that provides educational resources for students. of higher education.
Meanwhile, some legitimately disadvantaged students resist dwelling on their personal difficulties and insist on being accepted on their merits. A college writing tutor told the Post how she urged a high school student to showcase her background to earn points.
“I worked with a college student in the fall who was actually struggling — she immigrated to the United States as a child and saw and lived in real poverty,” the writing coach said. “But she was hesitant to capitalize on that because she didn’t want it to define her.”