Colleges across the country are finding that an increasing number of Chinese students are cheating the system by submitting college applications completed by hired professionals in China.
A new report by CNN explains the various tactics used by many Chinese students to sneak their way through U.S. college admissions, which includes testimony from an anonymous 21-year-old woman from the Jiangsu Province who was able to cheat the system herself.
“It would have been too much hassle if I had applied myself,” the anonymous woman, under the alias Jessica Zhang, told CNN.
So instead, Zhang’s parents paid three consultants approximately $4,500 to complete their daughter’s college application — which included writing the entire personal essay, as well as formulating fake teacher recommendations.
In addition, these hired professionals were responsible for all communication with Zhang’s prospective schools and coordinated her student visa for her.
And crazier yet — Zhang’s case is not unique.
Forbes reported that a 2010 Zinch China study estimated that “90% of recommendation letters are fake, 70% of application essays are not student-composed, and 50% of grade transcripts are falsified.”
Now, higher education officials are saying that it is still a big problem amongst many prestigious American universities.
“[College application fraud] is a huge problem,” said the director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Eddie West. “Understanding the true scope of the activity is inherently difficult because it’s clandestine.”
In an informal survey performed on a handful of Chinese students, CNN found that the students’ parents had paid “$3,000 to $40,000 to agents that promised to get their children into universities and colleges overseas.”
Agents could be employed by any of the 500 licensed or thousands of unlicensed educational consulting firms in China.
While confirming that the Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA) is fully aware of the rise of fraudulent college applications being sent from China to the U.S., communications director Joe Santangelo said that the company “can’t go in to every consulting office and investigate what services they are providing.”
However, U.S. college admissions officers have told CNN Money that as many as one in ten applications from Chinese students may contain fraudulent content. It is also important to note that Chinese students account for the majority of international students at American universities.
Lately universities have been developing their own methods for catching fake applications. For example, a common practice amongst international students like Zhang is hiring “ghostwriters.”
A former “ghostwriter” explained to CNN that he was a native English speaker living in Beijing, and would be paid at least $100 for each black market personal essay he wrote for students applying to American universities.
But in some “ghostwritten” application essays, agents will use a formula that they sometimes forget to double-check.
Admissions officer Kim Lovaas remembered reading a personal essay that, instead of using the applicant’s name, said “(Insert girl’s name here).”
“I thought, ‘Did I just read that?'” Lovaas said. “To me, that was a really big red flag.”
Additionally, many students are being caught once they actually start their tenure at American universities and are struggling academically.
Andrew Hang Chen, Chief Development Officer of a Chinese educational consultant agency named WholeRen Education said, “We want Chinese parents and students to know that it’s a big issue that a lot of Chinese students don’t succeed academically in the U.S.”
Jessica Zhang is currently preparing to attend a university in the Midwest and is particularly nervous about whether or not she will be able to pass the English-language competency test being presented on her first day.
“I’m afraid the test will show my true colors,” Zhang said.
Chen also approximated that about 8,000 Chinese students have been expelled from U.S. universities for fraudulent applications. However, it is still difficult to verify these statistics as there is not a formal protocol used to reach them.
Nonetheless, American universities continue to receive false applications and many, such as Jessica Zhang’s, are able to seep through the cracks.
“I did feel slightly guilty,” Zhang said. “But all my friends did the same thing.”