WHO ARE WE CHEATING?
By Claudine Vainrub
When the case of Sam Eshaghoff from Great Neck, Long Island, went all over the news, we were appalled. The 19-year-old was arrested for impersonating students to take their SATs for them. He was charging around $2,500 to pose as male and even female students at various testing sites, sitting for the test and earning his clients top SAT scores to support their college application process. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start. When one of my seniors this year reported to me that the kid in her school who became the “star college applicant” because he got accepted to many of the most selective schools, was known for taking the SAT for other students, I was again in awe. No one could warn the authorities for lack of direct evidence and College Board—the SAT test provider—did not find out, so the crime went unpunished. How could a student behaving illegally not only avoid the legal consequences, but also be allowed to thrive in the admissions process? What is wrong with our system and the admissions process?
Every year, the laments of college-bound students preparing for the SAT are heard out loud. Making the grade in this test takes so much effort for some that preparing for it becomes a time consuming occupation. The SAT has long been considered by some colleges an important tool to help admission committees select the students who are best suited to join their ranks from a sea of applicants. Every year hundreds of thousands of college candidates take the SAT, and their test results are assessed by admission officers to determine if students are academically prepared for the learning challenges to be encountered in college. The test claims to be a predictor of college success potential.
The SAT is also considered by many schools the one measure across the board that can allow admission committees to compare “apples to apples” when evaluating candidates. Others, including myself, do not agree with this prerogative. To opponents of this test, the SAT is yet another exam for which you can prepare in order to excel. Preparing does not necessarily mean you will learn useful academic concepts but mostly, master test-taking techniques to conquer the exam. Students who have more time and other resources, or are naturally good test takers, will have a competitive advantage, again skewing the balance. Now more than ever, cases of SAT cheating once again question the validity of this exam. If a student produces amazing SAT scores by committing fraud, the whole system becomes even more corrupted and less of a leveled playing field. Colleges are tricked into admitting undeserving students, often at the expense of other, more qualified and honest applicants. Though perhaps initially delighted with the idea of being accepted into a prestigious college, the cheaters may soon find themselves unable to keep up with the study demands. Worse yet, cheating on SAT exams is considered a criminal offense for which perpetrators could do jail time—what a way to start a college education!
When I arrived at the University of Michigan for my MBA program, I remember that one of the first things we were asked to do was sign the Honor Code. This code talked about the values, morals, and ethical conduct expected from students at UM. It explained the consequences of cheating in tests or engaging in unethical behavior. Most schools today have strict honor codes in place, and ask students to abide by them. Reflecting on the crime committed with SAT fraud, how can an already unlawful student feel bound to follow such a code? Can we trust such a student to become an ethical member of his/her new college community?
There are two perpetrators of this crime. The second one is equally at fault as the first one. Students that are so desperate to get high scores on their SAT or ACT and willing to pay someone else to take the tests for them are just as guilty. Testing agencies claim that they have seen very few instances of this type of fraud, however, many go unnoticed. In an interview on 60 Minutes, Eshaghoff explained how easy it was to create a false identification in order to pass himself off as another student, including females. Initially, Eshaghoff and six of his clients were arrested, but, since then, numerous other cases of SAT fraud have come to light and many of the people involved have been detained.
While it is good to know that the law takes these matters seriously, more could be done to dissuade students from cheating. Eshaghoff was merely given a community service sentence and is now back at Emory University. Many students who have earned their exam scores fraudulently still end up attending the college of their dreams. With a policy of not informing schools when students are suspected of cheating, College Board often allows this fraud to have no consequence for the criminals. These students have their scores canceled but are offered a refund, a free re-test, or the opportunity to arbitrate, in other words, less than a slap in the hand.
It is an understatement to say that this situation deeply frustrates me. However, when we go back to basics, the question is who are we cheating? What are we trying to achieve, to get into a “brand name” school? What is the “right” school? Why cheat to get into a school? If you need to be someone else in order to gain admission to the school of your choice, then you are not choosing schools wisely. Don’t let the pressure of the admission process get to you. Remember that it is all about finding a school that offers a great fit for you. Those students committing fraud will be starting off their education with a terrible precedent, whether people know about it or not. If we conduct ourselves in life without ethical standards, sooner or later, we will pay for the offenses we commit. Having witnessed so many students who thrive throughout the admission process when being honest about who they are and what they have to offer, I know there is absolutely no reason to not be ourselves. In the end, don’t you want to attend a school that values your traits and can help you work through your weaknesses? If we choose a school and they choose us for these reasons, no matter how faulty the system is, our academic, social and professional success is bound to be around the corner.