The Freshman Who Lied Her Way In

A private school noticed one of its students -- who never asked for materials to be sent to Rochester -- posted on social media that she was enrolling there. And then her scheme fell apart.

August 28, 2017
University of Rochester

Freshmen arrived at the University of Rochester on Wednesday. On Thursday, one of them was ordered to leave. It turned out she had successfully (until then) hidden the private school she had really attended from 10th through 12th grades.

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost and dean of admissions at financial aid at Rochester, agreed to discuss the fraud -- and its unraveling -- on condition that the private school the student attended and other entities involved were not named.

The student applied using a transcript service that describes itself as helping those who are home-schooled. The transcript was official. Letters of recommendation arrived as well. The student looked promising. She was admitted, and she arrived on campus.

But also last week, the student posted something to social media about how she was about to enroll at Rochester. Someone at the private school she attended her sophomore through senior years spotted the post and found it odd. The student hadn't asked for any materials to be sent to Rochester or indicated she was applying there. The school then notified Rochester, which had no idea she had been enrolled in a private school, as opposed to her story about being home-schooled.

"It’s clear she made a strenuous effort to say she didn't attend” the school she had been enrolled at. There were no mentions of the school, no ties between those who wrote letters about her and the school, no activities from the school, he added.

"This was a very deliberate effort to avoid mentioning the school," Burdick said.

Asked if there was something on her private school record that she was focused on hiding, Burdick said he suspected as much, but that he never saw that record. He also said it wouldn't have mattered if she had earned straight As. "We revoked admission based on fraud," he said. "Honestly it doesn't matter" what grades she earned.

He said there was no doubt she should be kicked out. He said his main regret was that it happened after she arrived on campus, such that it was unsettling to some students around her.

Burdick said the events left him appreciative that the private school paid attention to social media. Admissions officers disagree on whether to monitor social media. But in this case it helped uncover a fraud, he said.

Further, Burdick said that he would have Rochester look at how it treats home-school application materials. While the university wants to consider everyone fairly, he said he worried this student may have used "what is really a diploma mill."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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