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After Cheating Scandal, High School Cheaters Face No Increased Scrutiny in Admissions

By Zohra D. Yaqhubi, Crimson Staff Writer

In the first admissions cycle since the Government 1310 cheating scandal, applicants to Harvard College who had cheated in high school faced no increased scrutiny, a Harvard spokesperson confirmed Thursday.

Applicants to the Class of 2017 whose transcripts indicated a history of academic dishonesty were subject to the same evaluation process as similar applicants in previous years, according to Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal. That evaluation process is designed to give some accused cheaters a fair chance of admission, while still considering the gravity of the infraction, depending on the details of their case, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in an interview last month.

“We would listen to what the student has said. We also would listen carefully to what was in the reports from the school, and we would try to make a judgment,” Fitzsimmons said.

He added that in the wake of the cheating scandal there are “no changes anticipated” in the way Harvard looks at these applicants.

While he said that it is “not particularly common” for students with records of academic dishonesty to apply to Harvard, Fitzsimmons said that sometimes these students are able to rebound from the incident.

“If something happened early in one’s high school or middle school career, and it was really clear from the student and from the school that the person learned a great deal from the experience, in some cases, [that student] may in fact be better equipped when they get to college,” he said.

Fitzsimmons said that it has always been a priority of the admissions committee to take seriously violations of academic integrity.

“We’ve been as careful as anyone can be over the years, simply because character and personal qualities and integrity are so important in every admissions case,” he said.

But while Harvard seeks to carefully consider applications indicating a history of academic dishonesty, college admissions consultants interviewed for this article said in the absence of these marks, there is little Harvard can do to identify potential cheaters.

Anna Ivey, founder of the college admissions consulting firm Ivey Consulting, said that Harvard is often at the mercy of high school counselors, who do not always report academic dishonesty cases on students’ transcripts.

“It’s fairly common knowledge that less serious infractions don’t always make it onto the official record,” Ivey said. “There is really only so much that the admissions officers can do aside from encouraging the high schools to disclose the things that need to be disclosed.”

Zachary Bills, director of college admissions at consulting firm Top Test Prep, said he believes that even if Harvard’s admissions committee were to increase its scrutiny of applicants, it would be difficult to accurately judge a student’s character.

“I’m not certain that they’re going to find anything, or they have a real metric with which to judge if this person is more likely to cheat once they get to Harvard,” Bills said.

Fitzsimmons acknowledged these limitations, saying that Harvard can do “nothing other than observing what we have in the application and going from there.”

—Staff writer Zohra D. Yaqhubi can be reached at zyaqhubi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @zohradyaqhubi.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 12, 2013

An earlier version of this article misquoted Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 as saying it was “not particular common” for students with a history of academic dishonesty to apply to Harvard. In fact, he said this was “not particularly common.” The article also misquoted college admissions consulting firm founder Anna Ivey as saying that “admissions counselors” can encourage high schools to disclose their students’ academic dishonesty transgressions. In fact, she referred to “admissions officers.”

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