So you’ve exaggerated things on your college application. Maybe you’ve padded it up with thousands of hours that you did not really do community service, fictitious clubs that you founded, or an entirely fabricated personal essay that a counsellor wrote for you.
It’s not ideal – not to mention ethical – but it’s not uncommon for students to do this in order to get into college. Once they do, not many have qualms about it. After all, many wholeheartedly believe in the dictum ‘fake it till you make it.’ It often doesn’t seem likely that the college authorities are going to go back and check the details of your application as long as it doesn’t have glaring inconsistencies. But now that you’re in a spot you feel you don’t entirely deserve, you may worry.
Knowing what I do of the tough competition for young people to get into college, I’d like to say you’d be safe with a little exaggeration. But, if you are ever discovered to have lied, you might have your admission revoked in the middle of your course.
The question is, when should you worry? And what can you do about it?
If you have the sword of Damocles hanging over your neck and are afraid of what the consequences of your lies could be, here’s a look at the possibilities and your options. This is also advice for anyone who is considering lying on their application.
Know when to be worried
College authorities are used to scrutinizing thousands of applications. They don’t usually run fact-checks on every detail on the resume. If they were calling to confirm with every institution or project you’ve claimed to have been a part of, applications would take forever to process. The colleges usually take you on trust.
But they do have a practised eye. In many cases, they will be able to spot inconsistencies. For instance, what happens when what you’ve written in your essay and resume doesn’t match what your professors say in their letters of recommendation? The authorities will go back to double check and may make calls for proof of your claims.
Then there’s the scenario where you could accidentally get caught in your lie after you’ve been admitted. According to Wharton admissions personnel, an applicant wrote a very moving essay about the death of his mother. The essay may have been the clincher that got him accepted. But before school began, the university made a call to his home and his mother picked up. Needless to say, he had his admission revoked.
What can you get away with?
There are some exaggerations that may never be discovered. For instance, no one is going to be able to find out whether you did 10 hours or 200 hours of community service. If you’ve played a year of football for your school but written two on your resume, it may remain forever buried in the past.
But more blatant lies are risky. You may be able to say that you’ve won a regional science Olympiad and get away with the truth never being discovered. Or someone could make a phone call and find out in a minute. Or you may have lied about having founded a club, which is a risky thing to do. If it’s a club that doesn’t exist, it will be harder to prove you’ve lied. If it’s a well-documented club, it’s easier to prove. Something so trivial to sway the admission officer’s decision could, in the end, get you suspended or your offer revoked.
If you’ve fabricated your essay, you’ll be a little relieved to know that college authorities don’t typically pass essays through plagiarism checks. They rely on their intuition and experience to spot the cheaters.
But, is it worth the risk? Instances of cheating being caught after the fact may be alerting some offices to become more stringent. If you’re found out, your college may tell other colleges what you did. If you’re found out years after you’ve graduated, you may have your degree revoked.
Should you own up?
If you’ve lied and are feeling guilty about it, there are two options open to you. You could either go to the dean’s office and own up, or you could try and be the best version of yourself to make up for the lies.
What’s likely to happen if you own up? Some colleges, like St. John’s University, offers support to students who have been led by parents to lie on their applications. But not every college will be so forgiving. If you’re in a college that is strict about the honor code, it is likely your case won’t be viewed leniently.
But, if you have owned up yourself as opposed to having been found out, it may work in your benefit. If you feel you’re someone who can’t go through the rest of the college term (and beyond) without acutely feeling the burden of your guilt, you may want to take this step.
Should you ignore it?
Most who lie on college applications may get away with it. If it’s a little exaggeration, it may never be found out. And you could try to feel better about it by striving to be the best version of yourself. Now that you’ve gained a spot, forget about the little exaggerations you’ve made and do the best you can to shine. You’ll go against type when you do because many who lie about important things to get into college can’t cope with the schoolwork anyway.
There is no simple answer as to what choice you should make. It will depend on the extent of your lie, on how well you can perform with the guilt hanging over you. If you can motivate yourself to meet the standards you’ve set for yourself in your application, you’ll do better than most. If possible, don’t look back and live the best life you can and take whatever comes gracefully.
If you’re about to lie on your college application, don’t. It’s not worth it. It takes guts to be your honest self. Be proud of who you are. Getting into Princeton or Stanford is not worth lying on your application.