A year ago, Damien Verrett was patiently waiting for the infamous thick envelope indicating his acceptance to one of the UC campuses, when he received a letter he was not expecting.
The letter included a highlighted portion of his application and asked him to provide evidence for his claim that he was a member of the California Scholarship Federation for three years in high school.
“I was really worried at first,” said Verrett, a first-year undeclared major. “I initially thought maybe I had messed up on the number of years I was actually in the organization.”
Verrett is not alone. Every year, hundreds of randomly selected UC applicants receive letters from the university asking them to verify information they provided in the activities and awards section, or as part of their personal statement or academic records.
“Students are given examples of how they can verify their information,” said Han Mi Yoon-Wu, a coordinator in UC’s central admissions operations. “For example, a captain of a high school football team might present a copy of a yearbook photo or newspaper story and a student who worked in community service might provide a note from a supervisor or counselor.”
Though many universities check up on academic information and suspicious extracurricular claims, UC is the only institution to have a formal systematic auditing process, according to an article published in The New York Times.
The university implemented this system in 2003 as a way to ensure students were being truthful on their applications.
“The use of accurate information in the review process is important for public accountability,” Yoon-Wu said. “The university also recognizes that, given the competitiveness of the admissions process, some students may fear that others will embellish their records putting other applicants at a disadvantage.”
Courtenay Tessler knows a lot about the pressure high school seniors are under when applying to colleges. As a counselor at Davis High School, she said she sees how the stress affects her students.
“It is absolutely becoming more competitive,” she said. “Students who five years ago would have easily gained acceptance to a UC are now not getting in at all. It can be very demoralizing for students.”
Though Tessler said lying on applications is not a problem at Davis High School, students do realize that good grades and high scores are not enough to gain admittance.
Last fall’s freshman class faced one of the most competitive admission years at UC, with a 5.4 percent increase in applicants from fall 2008, according to the Undergraduate Admissions Office. Members of that class say the pressure to succeed in an increasingly tougher admissions process may lead more students to stretch the truth when it comes to their achievements and awards.
“It is definitely a temptation,” said Brittany Hirsch, a first-year international relations major. “When you are applying, you really want to put your best foot forward and oftentimes you feel like your best just isn’t good enough.”
While Verrett was able to provide proof of his participation in CSF, he admitted that he was guilty of some exaggeration.
“I played the bass in my high school orchestra and on my application I put that I was a first-chair bass,” he said. “There was really only one chair for bass, so I guess technically it was true.”
In general, the university finds that most students are honest on their applications, said Darlene Hunter, associate director of admissions for UC Davis.
“Out of the one percent that we ask for further verification, only a small amount are either unable to provide evidence or do not respond to our requests at all,” she said.
If the university does not receive adequate evidence after multiple letters to the student, it cancels the application, Yoon-Wu said.
“Falsification is the basis for a denial of admission to all UC campuses, regardless of whether the data misrepresented is used in an admissions decision,” she said.
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