How to get into Harvard

The Guardian just published a story about a student who conned his way into getting accepted to Harvard University.

And no, it wasn’t Alan Dershowitz.

[Adam Wheeler’s] successful Harvard application claimed that he had graduated from the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts – in fact he had gone to a state high school in Delaware – and had an impeccable record of academic excellence at MIT. Once having fraudulently gained entry to America’s most revered ivory tower, he pursued his fabrications with what prosecutors told the court was compulsive zeal.

As the Harvard Crimson newspaper identified, he created a resume that boasted the authorship of two books and co-authorship of four others, the delivery of lectures in Armenian studies and unblemished grades – all of it hogwash. He also won the $4,000 Hoopes Prize, $2,000 Sargent Prize and an $8,000 Rockefeller research grant, all through plagiarism.

I think this event says more about Harvard than about Adam Wheeler, a smart-aleck con artist who discovered an important weakness in the system. How do you get away with conning a world renowned institution like that? Is there no process of verification? Submitting grades electronically? Or at least official transcripts through snail mail? Nothing? Would you not verify to see if he had, at the very least, authored the books he claimed he had? All it takes is a quick Google search, doesn’t it?
My question – how many other students have done similar feats of fib? Perhaps not to the same extent, but how many students have exaggerated on their resumes about their accomplishments? In their personal statements? About their lives? Ups and downs?

This guy is weaksauce for doing what he did – but ask yourselves this: what does this, additionally, say about the sort of ideal candidate our institutions have created for entry into boastful ivory towers whose value lie more in self-acclamation than actual quality of academia and work, at times?

The story shouldn’t be about Adam Wheeler. It should be about the ridiculous standards and expectations we’re placing on students interested in higher education and how these very students are made to believe the better the institution’s name – despite actual quality – the better you are, as a person, because your employability skyrockets! It should also be about Harvard’s inability to google.


4 thoughts on “How to get into Harvard

  1. Interesting, I noticed how A-students would do ANYTHING to get the A back in college, cheating or doing some eye squinting to the professor. Same goes to managers claiming everything done is their own. I guess, having an ethical conduct doesn’t pay back as quick\much, if ever.

  2. In the New Zealand movie The Whale Rider, the young protagonist suggests that if everyone is taught what is necessary to be a leader, if everyone is encouraged to shine, then the whole community is stronger and healthier. I’ve seen the grab for glory that goes on in both the academic and business worlds, and I feel certain that real talent lies in the cultivation of strong community.
    Great blog. Loved your discussion on the nature of freedom. Have you seen this article? Kind of pertinent to both entries.

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