Colleges Announce Plans to Audit ECs

“EC” refers to extra-curricular activities.  Students concerned that they fall short of their peers in their achievements outside the classroom may be tempted to slightly exaggerate their deeds in sport, academic competitions, or community service.  The temptation to do so may depend on the assumption that colleges deluged with applicants typically do not verify ECs.

Indeed, the first reports after the “Varsity Blues” scandal indicated that colleges were still not going to scrutinize applications looking for fraud or misstatements (other than the University of California, which regularly audits applications, see

Per a Wall Street Journal article on the subject:

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.  Our process is as good as the information that we do receive,” says Stefanie Niles, vice president for enrollment and communications at Ohio Wesleyan University and president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “There’s been a lot of trust.”

“Even After the Admissions Scandal, Colleges Won’t Check Most Applications,” Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2019, (paywall).

This may be about to change, as colleges are beginning to verify ECs.

Hat-tip to one of my IECA colleagues for sharing a Bloomberg News article about colleges redoubling their efforts to prevent fraud in high school admissions.  See “U.S. Colleges Step Up Admissions Spot Checks After Scandal,” (counts toward “free” articles non-subscribers are allowed to view).

Bloomberg reports that some colleges are planning to double-check the applications of student-athletes to make sure that the students’ sporting credentials are legitimate.

Further, some schools are planning to go beyond athletics to ECs generally.  For example, here is an excerpt from a letter from Yale posted on its website:

Yale’s Admissions Committee evaluates each applicant to Yale College using a thoughtful whole-person review process. When selecting applicants, the committee values a wide range of strengths, talents, and qualities that enrich the undergraduate educational environment and contribute to its remarkable diversity. Beyond athletics, we will be implementing measures to reduce the risk of fraud in all applications, such as verifying certain extracurricular accomplishments and awards and auditing a sample of applications at the end of each admissions cycle. (emphasis added in bold).

Yale is not alone.  From the Bloomberg article:

Admissions officers say that while they want to spot evidence of such wrongdoing in the future, they also want to quash more mundane embellishments.

“There always has been the pressure to push it a little bit further,” said Whitney Soule, dean of admissions at Bowdoin, a liberal arts school in Maine. “We want to relieve that pressure.”

Bowdoin’s application website now states that the school may verify information provided on applications or supplemental materials, and that inaccurate or fabricated information may lead to offers being withdrawn.

Accuracy in describing ECs has always been important.  Now the stakes are higher – some colleges are likely to perform spot-checks and may even rescind offers for what used to be called resume “puffing.” 

Bowdoin’s Soule, who has worked in admissions since 1991, said the changes this year are meant to reinforce that students should be honest, even with seemingly small details.

If an applicant is a co-captain of a team, the student shouldn’t feel pressure to say he or she is the single leader, for example.

“Don’t be afraid to show us that you are sharing the responsibility,” Soule said.

The takeaway here is simple and sobering:  be careful not to exaggerate.  While the likelihood of an audit appears remote for students not claiming athletic achievements, the results of even a bit of fudging could be catastrophic.

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