Colleges vet China applicants with video

Michael Melia
Associated Press

American colleges sorting through a record number of applications from China are increasingly turning to video interviewing services to assess students’ language skills, get a feel for their personality — and weed out fraudsters.

The recorded interviews, recommended by dozens of schools, have emerged as a way to address cheating concerns highlighted by a breach that forced a cancellation last weekend of SAT exams in China.

“If you believe in all the fraudulent claims, and there certainly has been some documentation out there, then the one true equalizer is getting an unscripted interview with a limited English speaker,” said Kregg Strehorn, an assistant provost at the University of Massachusetts. “That will put anyone’s mind to rest.”

Admissions officers are wary of fraud in applications from all countries, including the U.S., but attention has focused on China with the huge rise in applications from the country’s middle class. More than 300,000 people from China studied in the U.S. last year, up from roughly 60,000 only a decade ago.

College officials and industry consultants describe a range of issues including plagiarism, purchased transcripts and surrogate test-takers. Evidence is largely anecdotal and the topic can be a delicate one for colleges, which receive a boost by enrolling international students who often pay full tuition.

One service provider, InitialView, was launched in Beijing in 2009 by an American couple. While many colleges have interviewed students themselves on the Internet, the company offers verification of student identities. InitialView conducts interviews in 14 cities across China and has begun operating in other countries. The company charges a one-time fee of $220 and will send a recording of the interview to as many schools as the student wants.

A Wellesley College student, Linda Liu, said she sat for an InitialView interview at the urging of a counseling agency that helped her with college applications. Liu, 18, said the service has grown in popularity among students at her Beijing high school and she saw it as an opportunity to tell American schools more about herself.

“It’s a way to show yourself, showing actually who you are, in a very direct way instead of just showing it in on paper or in essays,” she said.

Admissions officers say suspected fraud has turned up in applications from many countries. One challenge in vetting applications from China, they say, is separating out the work of the many third-party agents and consultants who promise to help students win admission to American universities.