THE BLOG

Leveling the Playing Field: Curbing Cheating in College Admissions

03/03/2014 01:41 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2014
  • James Werner Vice President of Higher Education, DecisionDesk

Early each year, students around the globe wait anxiously for their college acceptance letters. It is the culmination of long hours and hard work spent filling out applications and years of effort throughout high school. For some, their acceptance will not be to the school of their choice -- a harsh reality impacted by the rising numbers of applicants each year. As the applicant pool for college admissions continues to grow, competition for admittance has become fierce. The stress of the application process, combined with pressure from parents, peers and teachers has inevitably led to a certain amount of cheating. In order to ensure that every applicant gets a fair shot at admittance to the university of his or her choice, and that the time and energy spent applying to a school is worth the investment, it is vital that the admissions process safe-guard itself against any possibility of cheating.

The massive amount of information that flows through an admissions office often means that there is no time to double check the facts. The strain on resources, time and funding has led to cracks in the system and increased opportunities for cheating. International applicants, in particular, have taken advantage of the current system to their benefit. Studies estimate that upwards of 90 percent of recommendation letters from certain countries are forged and 50 percent of transcripts are falsified. This malfeasance has posed a challenge for universities, and has negatively impacted the admissions process for prospective students. Those who falsify documents in order to gain admittance rob qualified students of a potential spot in a college's freshman class or graduate program -- as well as damaging the interests of the college itself.

Admission of international applicants, in particular, often hinges upon materials that can be easily falsified. The growing demand for an elite U.S. education has created an arms race that has led to dishonesty in the application process. According to a 2010 report by Zinch China, a consultancy that advises U.S. colleges and universities on China, "8 out of every 10 Chinese undergraduate students use an agent to file their applications. And with such intense competition among agents -- not to mention ambitious students and their overzealous parents -- cheating is rampant." With this rampant misrepresentation, it is difficult to make accurate decisions on which applicants to admit.

Universities have recognized the need to take action against cheating. Using technology, schools have started building more cheat-proof systems. Integrating video in the application process, for example, is becoming increasingly popular. Whether through candidate uploads or a controlled interviewing platform, universities are increasingly turning towards video for a more holistic view of students. The online publication Inside Higher Ed explains that "colleges are increasingly turning to companies that provide video interviews... that promise, in various ways, to help with vetting and verification."

While not every student will be accepted to his or her top choice university, every applicant should be provided a fair opportunity for consideration. College application numbers continue to grow, and with them the amount of qualified students unfairly denied entry. Applicants who falsify documents for college applications -- and are admitted -- rob honest students of the opportunity to attend the school of their dreams. The onus is now on colleges and universities to level the playing field and to insure a fair and impartial review process. By incorporating technology into the application process, universities are taking a stand against cheating while promoting applicant integrity. Additionally, by granting reviewers enhanced screening tools to holistically review perspective students, universities can insure a more qualified applicant pool, allowing both schools and prospective students to win.