“Experience is the teacher of all things”

So I recently read an article about academic fraud from the Global Post (Read it here for interested folks). It was concerned with cheating and forgery in higher education systems, especially for international students. The article suggested that up to 90% of recommendation letters are faked, 70% of admissions essays were written by someone other than the applicant, and 50% of transcripts are at least partly altered. Writing an essay for someone is so common in this situation, that it has its own term: ghost writing. What’s worse is that some colleges may be at least partly aware of such fraud, but the article suggests bribes and international student tuition fees may help to keep everything quiet. For just a moment, compare international student annual tuition of $50,000 to in-state tuition of $25,000 at the University of Michigan. Yeah … there is a slight incentive for Universities to ignore some fraud. And let us not forget that all of this undercover alteration of information is not exactly cheap for the students themselves.

Lying about credentials or recommendation letters is basically admitting that you do not believe you are good enough for the program you are applying to and you need to fake your way in. Furthermore, this implies that you feel you deserve a leg up on someone else who actually may be qualified. And if you cannot get into the school or job that you want without cheating, what makes you think that you can succeed in it?

To be clear, I am not writing this because I want to complain about a broken education system or preach about cheating and lying. What really concerns me is that students feel the need to take such drastic measures to access a higher education. Why must this sort of thing be necessary to achieve college entry?

Everyone knows that gaining college admittance or prestigious internships boils down to that perfect GPA or standardized test score. To be competitive, students must market themselves in such a way as to exemplify how good of a worker, student, and person they are. But GPA isn’t exactly a good show of this at all now is it? As a student at a Big 10 School with ridiculously competitive students who aspire to Michigan Medical School or Harvard Law School, I have seen lots of competition among students, to the point where students purposely sabotage each other to lower class averages or pull all-nighters with the aid of Red Bull and Adderall.

Competition defeats the whole purpose of large schools with diverse populations- collaboration and mixing ideas for the betterment of student understanding and experience. GPA matters, but not as much as some people think. Experience, attitude, willpower, and confidence are far more important. In all honesty, I believe real-life ability to do things and the knowledge of how things really work will get you farther in life than memorizing a bunch of facts out of a book. What is the point of being able to recite the whole freakin microbiology book in lecture class, but then setting yourself on fire in every single laboratory class? (Yes, this happened.) Experience is a far better teacher anyway, and this is what should matter more in determining our abilities and intelligence than an arbitrary number that each college or professor interprets differently.

But, sadly, students have to be competitive and try to show their intelligence and ability in anyway possible to get ahead. And the easiest, most quantifiable way is scores, grades, and such tedious things. So students become competitive and focus too narrowly on getting ahead of the crowd. And in doing so, they forget a few things along the way. Like why they wanted an education. And no the answer is not simply “to get a high-paying job”. Yes, the perks of not working in a fast food restaurant the rest of your life are definitely an incentive … but, you should be in college for the experience and opportunities, the chance to do something you never thought you could, and to try new things.

And so what if along the way your GPA isn’t the greatest … I feel much better about my abilities and experience than how smart the University has deemed me based on grading done by dozens of different instructors working with different scales and expectations. It matters much more than it should. Nevertheless, I, like most everyone else in any higher education institute, still wish my GPA were higher. And I hope to do exceptionally well on the GRE. Because in the end, that is what will help me successfully get into Graduate School more than any real world experience. And the system is ridiculous, and we all have to play along.