Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Applicants look for edge in admissions through sabotage

Applicants to universities might not consider that in the glut of recommendation letters, transcripts and test scores that play into the college admissions game, someone might try and sneak in another element – sabotage.

Every winter, as application materials flood in, Northwestern receives a handful of anonymously submitted letters and e-mails, pointing out flaws in rival applicants or reasons they should not be admitted.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christopher Watson said NU has no time to pay attention to tips. He has them sent to the shredder.

“In the whole scheme of 25,000 applications, we don’t all of a sudden become detectives,” Watson said. He said NU has not received any sabotage letters this year because “it’s too early.”

But he predicts another tide of cryptic messages will wash up by Jan. 1, when regular decision applications are due.

Stacey Kostell, director of admissions at the University of Illinois, receives two or three newspaper clippings a year that usually expose the criminal history of students applying or planning to enroll.

Since disclosing criminal charges or criminal convictions is a mandatory step for applicants in any school’s admissions process, a separate committee will approach the prospective student in question and verify the accuracy of the evidence. The decision to admit the student depends on the information gathered.

Perhaps the senders “truly just want us to know (about the applicant) from a safety perspective,” Kostell said. “But we don’t know who they’re from, so it’s hard for us to tell if there’s a motive behind it.”

Gloria Mueller has been a college counselor at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview for 27 years. Out of last year’s graduating class of 659 students, 53 went to the University of Illinois and 10 to NU. She’s never caught anyone from her school “tattletale-ing” on rival applicants, but has been told by various admissions officers that there are instances of parents getting involved.

High school students make mistakes sometimes, she said, but “working somebody else’s indiscretion to benefit your child seems so wrong to me.”

“I’m really appalled by the tactics,” Mueller said. “It’s something that makes me want to say, ‘Do you not have enough to do?'”

Jill Meyer, college career coordinator at Evanston Township High School, said that students are applying to more schools than they used to, a trend brought on by the switch from paper to online applications.

Despite the “buzz of competitiveness,” she hopes that students will keep the focus on their own applications and not sabotage anyone else’s.

NU received 18,385 applications in 2006 and 25,013 in 2008. Despite the increasingly stiff competition, Watson believes there’s still honesty and integrity in the application process.

“That’s another reason why we don’t go searching on Facebook or MySpace – we look at candidates based on the information that we ask for and that they provide, and nothing else,” he said.

Weinberg sophomore Tom Gilbert said he didn’t take applying seriously enough to think of sending anonymous letters or newspaper clippings.

But if he had, he said he would have carefully weighed three factors: the competitiveness of the program he was applying to, whether he liked the rival applicant and “if there was a trail of bread crumbs leading back to me.”

He pointed out that the “personal attack” element exists in both the college admissions process and in political campaigns – and in politics, they do it because it works.

“I would like to think applying to college isn’t as dirty as politics,” he said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Applicants look for edge in admissions through sabotage