Lying College Essay

“It is hitting us like a tidal wave,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, referring to “absolutely ingenious credential fraud.” He added, “American higher education was not prepared for the triple whammy of globalization, the Internet and higher education becoming big business.”

A Yale spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Maharaj’s case, saying the matter was before the courts. Jeffrey Brenzel, the dean of undergraduate admissions, issued a statement saying that cases of suspected fraud in the application process were rare.

A hearing was scheduled for Monday in Connecticut Superior Court in New Haven. Mr. Maharaj’s lawyer, Glenn Conway, described his client as “an intelligent young man with a good strong academic background,” and said he would ask the court to put him in a rehabilitation program, which may require education, community service, restitution or other correctives instead of going to trial.

“It is not a finding of guilt or an admission of wrongdoing,” Mr. Conway said. He said that Mr. Maharaj did not wish to comment.

Questions about Mr. Maharaj’s application to Yale surfaced only after he had completed the 2006-7 academic year there.

One professor who worked closely with him, Sara Suleri Goodyear, said that Mr. Maharaj was one of “the most brilliant" students she had had in nearly 30 years at Yale. “He was articulate, very attentive and so highly intelligent that I considered asking him to work as my assistant over the summer," she said.”

According to Yale’s affidavit, the university police received a call in June 2007 saying that a student, Victor Cazares, was being threatened. Mr. Cazares told the police that he had tried to end his relationship with his boyfriend, Mr. Maharaj, and that Mr. Maharaj had threatened to commit suicide. He said that Mr. Maharaj had a history of mental health problems, and had subsequently threatened to kill him. He also told Yale officials that he had found that Mr. Maharaj was 26, not 21 as he had said, and that he appeared to have made other false statements about himself.

Mr. Cazares declined to comment on Wednesday.

Alerted to these problems, Yale officials delved into Mr. Maharaj’s records. They found that he had misstated his age on his application, and had not attended Columbia in all of the years he said he had. They also found that his official transcript differed from one he had filed with his application, which did not mention his year at N.Y.U.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Maharaj said Columbia had confused him with another student. And he sent Yale yet another transcript — on what appeared to be official Columbia paper, with a blue border, the university crest in the center and the official legal seal in the lower right-hand corner. Yale eventually concluded that the transcript was a forgery.

"The fact that Maharaj had possession of a fraudulently formatted transcript prepared on a genuine Columbia University document is in itself very suspicious and raises serious concerns,” Yale said in its affidavit.

Security experts also voiced concern about a student being able to obtain an official transcript form. They said that many colleges used paper with watermarks and embedded metal strips, and that accessing such paper was like a counterfeiter’s being able to obtain the special paper used for printing money.

“One important question is, did he take it or did he buy it?” said John B. Bear, an author and consultant in El Cerrito, Calif., who specializes in the issue of credential fraud in higher education.

He said that watermarks were not easy to reproduce, but that it was easy to find documents for sale on the Internet. “Registrars are turning more and more into detectives,” Mr. Bear added.

Columbia said it had “thoroughly reviewed this matter,” but would not comment further.

John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesman, said Mr. Maharaj’s records were being examined.

Mr. Conway, Mr. Maharaj’s lawyer, said he was not aware of any federal investigation into the grants and loans Mr. Maharaj had received. “That doesn’t mean they are not going to pursue it,” he said on Wednesday.

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There is in fact such a thing as a stupid question.  "How could a college really know if you lied on your application?" is a good example of one.

The problem with that question isn't that the answer should be obvious.  It's a stupid question because lying to your colleges is a stupid thing to do.  And most students aren't posing the question hypothetically.  They're asking because they're considering telling the lie.

Colleges know how to spot inconsistencies in your application.  They notice when things you say don't match with what your teachers or counselors say in the letters of recommendation.  And colleges won't hesitate to call your counselor to verify information that doesn't seem right.  They don't do it to catch you in a lie.  They do it to make sure they have accurate information. 

So sure, it's possible that you could claim to be a National Merit finalist and the college would never know.  You could claim to have played two years of varsity soccer when you only played one, that you did 50 hours of community service you didn't really do, or that you've never been suspended from school when, in fact, you were suspended once as a freshman.  A college might never find out. 

But the real question is, is it worth the risk?

If you lie on your college application and a college finds out–no matter what the lie is or how they find out–that's it.  You're not getting in.  And it wouldn't be unheard of for colleges to tell your other colleges what you did.  Colleges know that kids who are willing to take that risk are more likely to do things like cheat on a test or plagiarize a paper.  So the risk dramatically outweighs any potential reward.  And when you sign your college application, you're signing a formal document stating that all of the information is true to the best of your knowledge.  So if you get caught, forget it.  There will be no apologizing your way out of it.

Nice, confident kids who've worked hard don't ask us this question.  So don't let the pressure of college admissions influence you to lie on your college application.  Be better than that.  It's not worth it.  You don't need an admission to Princeton or NYU or UCLA badly enough to lie.  Just be honest.  Be proud of who you are and what you've done.  If you've made mistakes, be mature enough to own up to them.

It's hard not to like and respect people who have the guts to tell the truth. 

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