Application Frenzy Leads to the Rise of the Fraudsters

Application Frenzy Leads to Cheating

If you are applying to an American university from China, beware:

As reported recently on CNN, some folks have set up shop essentially to ghost write applications–from essays to recommendations.  This is specifically focused on China, but I know for a fact that similar services are available in the U.S. and anywhere else with internet access.   CNN’s narrow focus on China, a place which seems to be a bogeyman for U.S. media and politicians–at least when Russia is not on the front page–is a bit lazy. Having said that, this is a problem for many Chinese applicants, who do not understand the process and ethos of applying to a college in the United States, and who are sold a (false) bill of goods by companies promising college admissions to clients who do not understand the process.  American universities view this as cheating, at best.

Cutting to the chase, my advice on cheating on college applications is simple:  For those of you tempted to do this, please don’t.  Do not listen to a business that promises they can fill out your application and write your essays–this is considered fraud by all universities that are legitimate, both in the United States and outside of it.  And chances are these businesses are reusing materials to patch together applications in a kind of paper assembly line.  Even if a manufactured application did evade detection, it will be a generic approximation of you, which means that it will not be as persuasive as materials you yourself have developed–in other words, even if you are not caught right away, the application is not likely to work at a competitive college.  Because it is essentially hollow, it just won’t be good enough.

Plagiarism has long been a problem on classwork, and cheating on assignments often results in expulsion, but universities are now turning more attention to plagiarism on college applications–see the video here for more: plagiarized college applications.  The most commonly used method for screening essays and other written work for plagiarism is the Turnitin service.

Instead of cheating, create a more diverse list of schools to ease the pressure, ignore the frenzy around the same 10-15 colleges everybody wants to apply to, and get some help editing your essays.  Be aware that any plagiarism or fraud in a college application can lead not just to the student being rejected immediately (usually with no explanation–and you simply wasted your money and time on the application).   No, a “successful” fraudulent application can have repercussions later–you will be expelled after you have already enrolled and studied, even for years, if part of your application is later found to be forged. 

And please keep in mind that, while Turnitin has been in use for years in screening graduate applications, Turnitin itself was not the first essay screening program–a number of universities wrote and used their own software years before Turnitin became the go-to site for plagiarism screening–and at this point, this is a widely accepted way to deal with cheating.

The largest application portal, The Common Application, has explored using Turnitin in recent years, and though I have not yet heard of adoption for the coming application cycle, this does not mean that Common App schools cannot themselves use Turnitin on your essays–more and more do.  See Turnitin’s description of their service, here:  Turnitin for Admissions.

Leaving aside the practical matter of getting caught and denied–or getting caught down the road and expelled from your university–cheating is bad news on many levels, personally and more broadly.

Who wants engineers, doctors and others who have cheated their way into a profession? And who wants to secretly think of him or herself as a phony?

There is a huge gulf between using an editing service like mine to help you craft better essays and copying an essay–or having someone write on for you.  Both of the latter can lead to you being expelled due to plagiarism/fraud in your application.  So get some help, as needed, but use a process like mine, that is interactive and that helps you grow as a writer.

Okay, sermon over.  Good luck with your apps and contact me for detailed and economical professional editing.

Trends in College Applications for 2015-2016: Increased Competition, and Data for Foreign Students Applying to American Universities

Increasing Pressure in College Applications Overall

The trend is for increasing competition for spots at the super-selective elite schools–Stanford and the Ivy League, the big Midwestern brands (U  Chicago, Northwestern, U Michigan) and others.  This trend is spreading, as applications increasingly flow out to what were previously considered “safety” schools, which then report lower rates of acceptance and higher average GPA and test scores for admits.  Rates of admission have been trending down across the board for over a decade at selective schools.

For some specific data on current application trends, have a look at my summary of trends from last year’s applications to the Ivies, the University of California system and some others here:  Application results from 2014-2015.  (Further data on GPA and test score averages from the 2014 application cycle are added to this post on my subscription-only website, which is $15 for the full application season through May, 2016.  Contact me for a subscription.)

Back to the overall application trends:  Keep in mind that more  applicants are applying to more schools, which inflates the number of rejections, but there is a reality behind the increased competition that has nothing to do with inflated application rates.

Higher education is probably our most successful domestic industry in the United States–in contrast to higher education, American tech companies, which are  regularly cited as the greatest source of American innovation, outsource most of their work internationally, with Apple as a poster child of this.   Very little education labor is outsourced, and U.S. colleges are major draw, with 886,000 foreign students enrolled in American universities for the 2014-2015 school year.  Contrast this to the 819,000 foreign students in 2012-103, and the trend is clear.  A recent Brookings institute study showed that many of these same students end up working for American companies–

“Forty-five (45) percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university. Metro areas that retain high shares of their foreign graduates under the temporary Optional Practical Training (OPT) program tend to be either large diversified economies (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), or specialized labor markets that align closely with foreign graduates’ training (e.g., Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas).

These findings suggest that foreign students can provide important economic benefits to their U.S. metropolitan destinations—serving as bridges back to their growing home cities and offering valuable skills to local employers. More metropolitan leaders should emulate leading practices that capitalize on the knowledge and relationships of foreign students to strengthen local economies while also maximizing students’ educational and professional experiences in the United States.”

The same Brookings report also shows that 2/3 of foreign students in the U.S. apply to STEM or business majors, compared to less than half of American applicants (48%).  This, of course, also represents a problem for those of you applying from outside the United States in terms of differentiating yourself in your application, particularly as you deal with the emphasis on extracurricular activities and supplemental materials, like essays.  See my post explaining the two kinds of college applications here–The Secret to College Admissions: How Applications are Evaluated.

Industries like domestic auto manufacturing should envy the brand appeal of American higher education, but despite its appeal, the United States as a whole has not been making much of an investment in any public goods and services, including universities–in one extreme example, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has been  massively cutting funding for universities, taking a cue from his hero, Ronald Reagan, who argued from 1968 on that higher education was  privilege that should be financed by those “using” it.   Which is too bad, because U Wisconsin has been a top pick in a number of disciplines, but when universities face budget problems, I factor that in to my evaluations of them as target schools.

In places like California, campus growth has not kept up with population growth.  This trend is not likely to change anytime soon, either.   Even with predictions that the number of high school graduates will begin to decline in the next decade, the application trend is still going to be up–and I don’t hear a lot about building more campuses, except with some satellite campuses for some schools in places like Abu Dhabi.

Add to that the fact that college and postgraduate education does attract more applicants to the U.S. from around the world every year, and you will continue to see increase competition between domestic and foreign applicants for seats. This has led to a rise in what I call College Application Factories, which promise everything from “original” college application essays to entire applications, manufactured to your specifications.  Among the many problems this raises is the fact that most of the applications are essentially formatted responses, including essays that are little better than fill-in-the blank pages, and the fact that this is outright fraud, which will cause the applicant to be rejected if it is caught on submission, or expelled when the application is found to be fraudulent after the fact.  Not good.  I will write about this more in my next post.

In the meantime, scan my website for this year’s application prompts and start your application essays soon.  Cheers.