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3 Ways to Prevent College Admissions Fraud

Those who work to prevent college admissions fraud were hardly surprised at the news of Operation Varsity Blues.

Posted by Katie Yahnke on April 19th, 2019

There have always been two ways to get into a top college. There’s the front door, which requires a long list of academic achievements and extracurricular activities. Then there’s the back door. The back door involves legacy connections, massive public donations and a wink at the admissions clerk.

Operation Varsity Blues exposed a new way to get in: the side door. The side door goes beyond hiring a consultant to help with college forms or essay proofreading, both of which are legal.

Instead, prominent families use their money and knowledge of the complex admission system to their advantage. They might use their connections to persuade rogue insiders or bribe them to plagiarize documents.

Holes in the college admissions processes make it easy for fraudsters to sneak in. Learn to identify these holes and how to close them through better approval processes, technology and auditing.

Download this eBook to learn how case management software can help prevent admissions fraud by breaking down information silos and eliminating blind spots.

Why Commit Admissions Fraud?

More young adults than ever before are applying to higher education schools. This means more applications, more essays and more fact-checking. Despite the high volume (and still increasing) number of applications, admissions offices have failed to expand as rapidly.

One article indicated that before, the readers of admissions applications could spend between 16 and 20 minutes on a single application. Now, they have about eight minutes. That’s nowhere near enough time to uncover inconsistencies or probe answers.

Overworked staff members let exaggeration and falsification slide. Beyond too few admissions officers, colleges and universities have few (if any) procedures in place to fight fraud.

For example, as discovered in Operation Varsity Blues, many of the applicants given preference because of their athletic standings didn’t play any sports at all. A quick call to a former “coach” would have proven this false, but so many forms and so little time forces admissions staff to skip steps.

As long as competition is fierce, applicants will find ways to stand out among their peers. And as long as the admissions office is understaffed, it will be tough to separate fact from fiction.

How Can We Prevent It?

There are many ways to prevent admissions fraud. The problem is most schools didn’t realize it was a big enough problem. In fact, an informal survey conducted by Kira Talent found only 29 per cent of schools reported having a process to prevent and detect fraudulent applications.

Colleges would benefit from improving their current processes, incorporating new technology to identify fraudulent applications, and conducting regular audits.


Upgrade Your Approval Processes

The most straightforward answer is for universities and colleges to hire more staff and re-train existing staff. If there’s clearly too much work and hiring more staff is the only answer, do that. Alternatively, re-train officers. Help them develop the right skills, knowledge and tools to identify fraudulent applications.

Another great way to prevent fraudulent applications is to improve approval processes. Critique and modify your current procedures. For example, add a second layer of verification for certain higher-risk applicants, like student athletes. Add new rules too, like making sure admissions officers know that all references must be contacted and questioned, no exceptions.

Evaluating and improving current procedures was the first thing most schools involved in the admissions scandal did. The University of Texas at Austin reviewed its admissions process for athletes and critiqued their current rules. Yale University re-reviewed the credentials of all previously recruited athletes and established a better procedure for confirming athletic qualifications.


Incorporate Software and Technology

Technology can remove a lot of the tedious work that burdens admissions officers. Instead of having your staff Google suspicious-sounding sentences, use a plagiarism detection program to scan all student applications for stolen work.

Technology can also help schools track incidents, conduct investigations and identify risk areas. Schools that adopt case management software to fight admissions fraud will find it easier to track, investigate and report on fraudulent applications. Plus, using case management software helps to expose new fraud schemes as they emerge.


Use Auditing to Find Fraud Opportunities

If there’s a hole in your processes, an internal audit will help you find it. Basic auditing is often overlooked and its effectiveness underestimated.

Colleges and universities can conduct an internal audit themselves or hire a third-party to do it. Whichever route they choose, the most important part is to conduct audits regularly. Processes change, fraud schemes change and times change. One audit will not prove the integrity of a procedure forever.

Several of the victims of Operation Varsity Blues have vowed to conduct audits of their admissions processes. Georgetown plans to hire an independent, third party firm to conduct a thorough audit of the athletic recruiting process to “strengthen the integrity of their process”. Yale, too, will use external advisers to comb through current prevention efforts and suggest changes.

Katie Yahnke
Katie Yahnke

Marketing Writer

Katie is a former marketing writer at i-Sight. She writes on topics that range from fraud, corporate security and workplace investigations to corporate culture, ethics and compliance.

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