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Top Five Admissions Scandals of the Last Five Years

By Brendan Conway updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Today’s college admissions process, while more complex and competitive than ever, is designed to give every applicant a fair shot at earning admission to the school of his or her choice. Unfortunately, however, not everyone approaches this process with the same degree of integrity. Both applicants and school officials occasionally try to rig the admissions game for their own benefit. Here’s a look back at the 5 most famous college admissions scandals of the last 5 years.


5. MIT Dean of Admissions resigns after admitting she lied on her own job application


In April 2007, highly respected Dean of Admissions at MIT, Marilee Jones, resigned after admitting that she had misrepresented herself on her resume and job application. While she had claimed degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Albany Medical College, and Union College, in truth she earned degrees at none of those schools. She had only attended RPI for a short period of time and never studied at the 2 others.

4. Claremont McKenna falsifies SAT scores of admitted students

At the beginning of 2012, several major news outlets reported that the former Dean of Admissions at elite liberal arts college Claremont McKenna had been inflating the school’s reported SAT scores (those of admitted students, which are reported to agencies that rank colleges like U.S. News). While these inflated scores typically only differed by 10-20 points from the actual ones, they still helped improve the school’s overall academic image both internally and externally.

3. The University of Illinois admits unqualified applicants with political ties

For the past decade or perhaps even longer, high-ranking officials at the University of Illinois were found to have given preferential treatment to applicants with connections to politicians and those who supported the school financially.

While this isn’t unheard of at other institutions, the practice at the University of Illinois was significantly more widespread and went so far as to accept completely unqualified applicants based solely on influential friends and family. Called “Category I” by those who participated in these admissions deals, it is estimated that 800 applicants benefited from the process from 2005-2009 alone.

2. New York high school students caught being paid to take SAT and ACT tests on behalf of others


In late 2011, an investigation revealed that a large group of students from Long Island were involved in an elaborate scheme to cheat on the SAT and ACT tests. Twenty students were ultimately charged (5 for taking tests posing as other students and 15 for paying those students to take the tests as them), but officials say that as many as 50 may have actually been involved.

The students caught used fake IDs to gain admission to testing centers and were paid anywhere from $500 to more than $3,000 by their “customers.” As a result of this discovery, both the SAT and ACT tests substantially revised their testing procedures in 2012 to stop cheating of this nature in the future.

1. Student lies his way into Harvard


Perhaps no college admissions scandal has received greater media attention than the case of Adam Wheeler. What did Adam do? Oh, not much…

...he just completely falsified his entire list of academic accomplishments, earned admission to Harvard along with nearly $50,000 in scholarship money, made it through more than 3 years there, and was only caught when he attempted to apply for both the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships using similarly falsified information.

Among his many lies were that he attended the prestigious prep school Phillips Andover Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, achieved perfect SAT scores, was a published author, and spoke multiple languages. Adam Wheeler was arrested on 20 charges, including larceny, forgery, and identity fraud, in 2010.
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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