Do Colleges Verify Information in Applications?

Question: I recently learned that the local library where I volunteer received a call from a college admission official to verify that I really do work there. Is this a common practice? I also did other volunteer work several years ago. I'm worried that, if colleges follow up on that, no one will remember me. I was honest on my applications but I am still concerned that I might seem otherwise, if some organizations don't keep records of volunteer service. I have already been accepted by UCLA and one other very selective college. Might they reverse my decision if they find discrepancies? Also, I was suspended for fighting as a sophomore. Do you think this is why colleges are checking up on me?

I always knew that colleges do occasionally check up on student application claims, but usually only when they spot a "red flag" that suggests the information is fabricated or inflated. For instance, if a candidate lists "Student Government President" on her résumé but her teacher recommendation describes her as "pathologically shy," then a follow-up phone call from an admission officer is probably in order. (That's actually a call I made myself in my application-reading days. It turned out that the student in question really was the student gov prez, but, when writing her recommendation, the teacher had confused her with a quiet classmate with a similar name!)

However, until I read your question yesterday, I'd never heard of colleges and universities spending time verifying garden-variety application listings such as volunteer jobs at libraries, hospitals, soup kitchens, etc. So I decided to do some verifying of my own. I contacted colleagues through the National Association for College Admission Counseling listserv and asked if any schools out there were known for such sleuthing.

I soon learned that the University of California institutions do exactly that. According to Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the entire UC system, each year just under 10 percent of all UC applications are randomly selected for verification. Wilbur explained that only "one item" per application is checked. So if your library received a call to inquire about your service there, you can rest assured that your other volunteer venues did NOT (unless there was a particular reason to be suspicious. More on that in a minute).

Wilbur said that the "one item" that the fact-checkers investigate is not always an extracurricular endeavor. It might, for instance, be a high school transcript of courses and grades or an achievement mentioned in an essay. Wilbur also pointed out that UC is quite upfront about this practice (and she certainly was with me) so that, even though the odds are against any single application being checked, students should not be surprised if they learn of follow-up calls, as you did. (And I suspect that your library call was because of your UCLA or other UC application.)

Finally, Wilbur noted that individual institutions in the UC system may launch their own follow-up quests if there is reason to doubt the credibility of an applicant (as in my "red flag" example, above). However, it seems highly unlikely that your sophomore suspension spurred such a check-up. (Had you been disciplined for dishonesty, that might be a different story.) My guess is that you were just one of the 10 or so percent whose number came up at UC this year.

So it sounds as if you can relax as you let the rest of your admission verdicts roll in. You've got a couple great choices already and perhaps will face a tough decision before May 1. Good luck to you, whatever you decide.