The New York Times recently published the results of an investigation of the TM Landry Preparatory School in rural Louisiana.  What the NYT found was systemic lying on behalf of the administration and students to help increase the students’ chances in the uber-selective Ivy admissions process. (You can read about it here.)  Students were asked to “manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.” Transcripts were beefed up with non-existent information and accolades. With these extra bonafides, many students were accepted at the highest levels of post-secondary education in the U.S., to include Yale, Harvard, Brown, and others.

Another article, also from the NYT, spoke of a student’s compelling essay about the grief he suffered when his mother passed away.  Admitted due in part to his story, his admission was revoked when the school spoke with his not-dead mother.

Where is this leading me? To the overwhelming chances of those who lie on college admission applications getting away with it? To the US colleges and universities who look for compelling stories at a higher and higher level each admissions year driving students to invent? No, to either.  Its leading me to this:

Authenticity. Honesty. Sleeping well at night.

Honesty and authenticity in your college applications is a direct reflection of the way you, the student, has and will conduct themselves in life. Regardless of the passive encouragement from admissions offices to tell a huge, original story, a student’s portrayal of their qualifications and personality through their admissions application should speak truth to power. Knowing that admission was granted due to real qualifications, a real story, gives the student the ability to sleep well at night.

So, let me tell you a story from a client of mine. Overly-disciplined for a minor infraction, Karlsson* chose to leave one high school and enroll in another. An amazing athlete, natural leader, with scores over the 90th percentile on the SAT, solid grades in tough courses, he must now navigate the application question about disciplinary actions on the common application. He has answered them honestly, with grace and candor. An open book. Karlsson was and is honest, authentic, and will attend college. The college which is lucky enough to have him join their community will get a student with the moral courage to do what is right, and the decency to take responsibility- as well as speak about it with humility and humor. Not so for those young men who were with him during the infraction but chose to remain silent protecting themselves and lying about their involvement. They may achieve admission with ease, but their behavior in one instance is illustrative of  greater issues…. Their lack of honesty, which leads down another path, a less reliable one, for the rest of their adulthood. Colleges and universities may not know about their bad behavior during the admissions process, but will come to understand the type of student they admitted bye and bye.  Colleges may not have the time, resources, or inclination to fact check every student’s statements, but in the grand scheme of things, karma and behavior will do their job for them. Are admissions offices culpable, driving students to lie and cheat their way into college? I don’t think so. The die is cast on a student’s honestly long before they hit submit on their applications.

Lies on your college application may not be caught. Inventing an attractive story may be a great way to get noticed. But falling asleep in your dorm bed knowing that you achieved admission honestly and authentically will give you, and the admissions office,  a good night’s sleep… that night and many nights to come. Value honesty, not for what it will get you, but for how it defines you. 

*Students names have been changed to protect their identities. Some clients have chosen their “nom de guerre.”

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