What was true about this Ivy League student’s application?

What was true about this Ivy League student’s application?

Alex Williamson for The Chronicle, photo by AP Images

Writing about personal trauma or adversity in a college application is the norm. There are guides online that tell high school students how best to do this. Admissions officers say there’s no need to disclose a painful past, but it’s important for applicants to stand out. At elite colleges in particular, officers are keen to seek out extraordinary students from less fortunate backgrounds.

When Mackenzie Fierceton applied to the University of Pennsylvania, her admissions essay described a traumatic fight with her mother. Although the details of that evening remain controversial, Fierceton opened her trial lying in a hospital bed with a swollen face and hair “coated” with blood. Fierceton testified at a hearing in 2019 that her mother pushed her down a flight of stairs. His mother disputes Fierceton’s account.

Five years after writing that essay, Fierceton was a role model for overcoming adversity. She was named a Rhodes Scholar after graduating summa cum laude holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and was preparing for her master’s degree in social work. But after The Philadelphia Investigator published an article about scholarship, university officials received an anonymous email saying that Fierceton grew up in an affluent suburb of St. Louis, attended private schools, and her mother was a radiologist. The email, and a similar one sent to the Rhodes Trust, sparked investigations by Rhodes and Penn. The investigations mainly focused on his undergraduate candidacy essay.

Penn and Rhodes concluded that Fierceton had not been completely honest about his background. In her master’s application, Fierceton said she was a first-generation student. The university’s report on its investigation focused on this detail. On the university’s website, the term is defined in several ways, including students who are the first in their families to “pursue higher education at an elite institution”. The Penn First Plus website, which works to make Penn more inclusive, states that students may qualify as first-generation if they “have a strained or limited relationship with the person(s) in your family who hold a bachelor’s degree.” .” Fierceton considered themselves family when she applied to Penn, but the university is withholding her master’s degree until it completes its disciplinary process.

The Rhodes report came to a similar conclusion. He revealed that Fierceton had created ‘false narratives’ about herself. The report recommended canceling her scholarship and she withdrew from the program.

Beyond the surveys and their results, there is a question that is more difficult to answer. Was her candidacy essay intended to inspire sympathy or was it a teenage girl’s portrayal of her feelings of distress? If you ask where the blame lies in this complicated saga, it’s hard to pinpoint one actor. Was Penn wrong? Feroceton? Or was it an admissions system that often rewards teenagers for writing about their most vulnerable moments?

Fierceton told our Tom Bartlett that sometimes she wishes she had never applied to Penn in the first place. She sued the university, accusing it of conducting a “fake survey.” Recently, the Student Conduct Office recommended graduating but imposing a retroactive suspension. The suspension would be a note in her academic record indicating that she had been sanctioned. She should also write a letter of apology. Fierceton said she didn’t deserve such a blemish on her record and that the university should apologize.

Read Tom’s full story here.


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