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.
Filed Under: College applications
Writing that college application essay doesn’t have to be scary. Just be careful when using that keyboard.
College application essays scare most of us.
Even if you consider yourself a pretty good writer, the thought of cranking out an essay that will determine whether or not you’ll get into college can leave you in a cold sweat.
But writing that college application essay doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, you can be yourself — relaxed and sincere. Keep in mind, though, that there are some things you definitely shouldn’t include in your essay.
1. Flat-out lies
This one seems obvious but has to be mentioned. While it’s true that there are a lot of facts about yourself you won’t include (such as all those Justin Bieber songs you have on your iPod), you need to accurately portray the ones you will include.
So, if you say you’ve escaped abject poverty and your high school transcript shows you went to some upper-class private school, college admissions officers are going to see right through that. Just be smart about it and honest, while still making yourself look awesome.
A friend of mine had a fellow creative writing classmate who was writing a memoir about being a waitress. While this might not be the typical dramatic memoir you would find in the best-sellers section of the bookstore, she made it interesting without having to appeal to small or big lies. It’s all in how you spin it.
2. Unnecessarily big words
There’s nothing wrong with big words. But using a word that even admission counselors have to look up in the dictionary is not impressive, it’s annoying. Don’t reach into the dictionary just to sound sophisticated. Use words that make the most sense and convey your message clearly and effectively.
It’s not just big words that will trip you up. I had a journalism professor who hated the word “utilize.” While I would argue there are rare cases where this word is necessary, he’s right: Using the word “use” makes more sense in most cases. Heed the favorite saying of English teachers everywhere: “Don’t use a 10-cent word when a five-cent word will do.”
To be on the safe side, especially for you non-writers, enlist an editor to look over the word choices in your essay before sending it off.
3. A voice that’s not your own
In my many years of helping friends write essays (including college application essays), I’ve noticed that they become a completely different person in their writing. Their writing voice is nowhere near their speaking voice.
Now, I’m not saying you should use slang or interject sentences with the word “umm,” but be yourself.
My sister, who I’ve helped with many of her high school and college essays, becomes almost a different person in writing, saying things like, “The indication of her rhetorical strategy…” when in real life she’d just say, “Her style of persuasion…”
Which sounds better and more likely to be the voice of an 18-year-old? They want to hear from you, not someone else.
4. Tiny examples to prove big points
Don’t say you’re a hard worker because you take out the trash whenever your parents ask you. Small examples and everyday anecdotes can be great, but don’t go too small.
The logic has to connect. Taking out the trash doesn’t equal hard worker. You could have been taking it out to get your parents off your back or because it stunk. What does equal hard worker is you tutoring disabled children at a local school. Then from there, get into small anecdotes, such as teaching a kid how to tie his shoes.
Take notes from President Obama. He mentions a bigger theme, such as unemployment, and pairs it with smaller examples, such as a struggling mother. This personalizes and drives his point home. You taking out the trash doesn’t connect to any grand, noble conclusion on its own.
5. A list of accomplishments
As mentioned in a recent USA TODAY College article, merely listing all of your accomplishments in your college application essay is a terrible use of your 500+ word limit. It’s boring and might lower your chances of acceptance into those universities in Chicago, New York or wherever you’re dying to go.
I once went to a group job interview where the CEO asked us why we wanted the job. One by one, we all made the mistake of listing our accomplishments. When I started out my answer with, “Well, I’ve been writing for so-and-so years,” he stopped me and said, “Jon, I know that. I have your resume. Just answer the question.”
The same idea applies here. Your GPA and extracurricular activities are well-documented elsewhere. This essay is your opportunity to go in-depth on maybe one or two of these accomplishments. Imagine that they’re allowing you to color in one or two paintings at the art gallery that is your life. Which is the most beautiful when painted with detail?
All in all, be yourself, be accurate and display truths and accomplishments you think are worth sharing.
Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer and human being. He’s been pubished in impressive publications, like Las Vegas Review Journal, and wants the world to know about two things: Lemon cookie ice cream and his blog.
college applications, college essay, getting in, Jon Fortenbury, COLLEGE CHOICE