How To Lie Your Way into Harvard

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Adam Wheeler is a criminal, but many believe he’s also at least part genius. After all, he successfully duped Harvard University for three years and won himself several meaty scholarships and prizes during his time there. According to court documents, Wheeler was enrolled at Harvard in 2007 after lying on his application about several key points in his life, including prior schools attended and test scores.

How To Lie Your Way into Harvard
Adam first attended Bowdoin College in Maine, but was suspended in early 2007 for academic dishonesty. He then decided to apply to Harvard. On his application, he claimed to have been a student at MIT for the year prior with perfect grades. He forged a transcript with letter grades on it, even though MIT uses a number grading system. How the admissions team at Harvard missed this one, I’m not quite sure. Wheeler also claimed to have scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT test. He actually scored around 1200. Again, the copy of the test score was faked and no one caught on.

While a student at the Ivy League school, Wheeler joined the Kirkland House and received a Hoopes Award for an English project he had done. This award is considered to be one of the highest honors an undergraduate can receive, and is given for outstanding scholarly work or research by students. The problem here is that Adam has been caught lying, cheating and plagiarizing many documents and papers. A team of 80 professors chose him as the recipient of this award. I’m assuming they checked thoroughly to make certain he had not stolen any of the content for this project.

Adam was caught only when he prepared to try his hand at both a Rhodes and a Fulbright… two of the most prestigious awards one can receive. James Simpson, a Harvard professor helping to go over these applications, noticed that there were “similarities between Wheeler’s work and that of another professor during the application review process for the Rhodes Scholarship. The professor then compared the two pieces and voiced concerns that Wheeler plagiarized nearly the entire piece.” Upon investigating, all of Wheeler’s other transgressions came to light.

Adam was dismissed from Harvard in October, but didn’t let that stop him. In January of this year, the precious young man submitted applications to both Yale and Brown. He claims to have been employed by McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility affiliated with Harvard and provides recommendations from a hospital employee and a Harvard dean. According to authorities, both the statement and the recommendations are phony.

Wheeler is currently being held by Cambridge police pending his arraignment this morning at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. He is charged with four counts of larceny over $250, eight counts of identity fraud, seven counts of falsifying an endorsement or approval, and pretending to hold a degree. “I was just knocked silly by this,’’ said one Harvard professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, who likened Wheeler’s fabrications to a scenario from the film ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley.’ “There’s something that’s pathological there. And it’s something that seems to me that needs care and clinical treatment, rather than incarceration.’’

I still am baffled as to how this young man managed to get as far as he did. I understand that the transcripts and letters of recommendation were all on proper letterheads from the various schools and institutions. However, little things slipped through the cracks that should not have, including the incorrect grading system found on his supposed MIT transcript. I’m not saying that Wheeler is blameless. In fact, I tend to agree with the professor quoted in the above paragraph. This kid may need some type of therapy far more than he needs to be locked up.

At the end of the day, though, I do feel that the school should also take a good, hard look at their admissions process. There needs to be more fact-checking. In this day and age of identity theft and crime, schools need to have tighter selection and verification processes than ever before.