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Education Reporter

Students Sabotage Their Rivals for College Admissions
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Applications, recommendations, and transcripts aren't the only contents of the modern admissions department's incoming mail. The mail also brings some applicants' attempts, usually anonymous, to sabotage other students who are competing with them for coveted spots.

"It is one indicator of the high anxiety that seems to be out there, the inability of some families to deal with rejection," Mabel Freeman of Ohio State University told the Chicago Tribune.

Admissions directors often suspect that parents have as much or more to do with sabotage attempts as their teenage children do. More American high school seniors will graduate this spring than ever before — 3.3 million of them. The percentage attending college, too, is breaking records. Each top college only accepts a small number of students from any one high school, and anxious applicants and their parents reason that their real rivals are the other qualified students from their own schools.

Anonymous notes accuse other applicants of lying or cheating, reveal that they have been suspended for underage drinking or discipline infractions, or otherwise mar the flattering self-portrait students paint on their own applications. Some saboteurs send clippings from the local paper's crime blotter, exposing other applicants' criminal activities. Or, they tip off admissions officers to incriminating evidence on the web — inappropriate photos or notes on the popular social networking sites Facebook and MySpace, for example.

Some letters accuse students of lying on their own applications. The University of Chicago recently received a letter informing the admissions department that an applicant had lied about being president of the senior class.

Several admissions directors said they throw anonymous letters straight in the bin, although they will follow up on signed ones. Dan Saracino, admissions director at the University of Notre Dame, said he does check into anonymous letters. "If the person is saying something that might have some credence, you don't want to dismiss it," he pointed out. "We will contact the student who is being maligned and ask them if they care to respond."

Northwestern University received one accusatory letter written in crayon. "I guess they thought we couldn't trace it if it were in crayon," said admissions dean Christopher Watson. "We see everything. Nothing shocks us anymore." (Chicago Tribune, 10-20-08)

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