College admissions scam ‘very unlikely’ to happen at Canadian schools

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  • March 15, 2019
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With little consideration given to standardized testing or student athletic abilities, and without the same competitiveness to get into top-tier schools, Canada is far less likely to be embroiled in a post-secondary admissions scandal like the one in the U.S., experts say.

“I think that the exact situation happening in Canada is probably not taking place,” said Robert Astroff, president of Astroff Consultants Inc., a Toronto-based school admissions consulting company.

“I think we would be naive to think that there’s none of this fraud going on, but I do think that the situation in Canada is qualitatively different than what we’re seeing in the States.

“I would say in Canada there are less opportunities to game the system.”

Sparked outrage

The scandal that has sparked widespread outrage includes Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who are among the wealthy and well-connected parents charged in an alleged multimillion-dollar scheme to help their children into elite universities by cheating the admissions process.

“I think, the way our system is set up, this kind of scale of fraud would be very very unlikely,” said Richard Levin, executive director of enrolment services and university registrar at the University of Toronto. “I’m certainly not aware of anything like this.”

Wealthy and well-connected parents are charged in an alleged multimillion-dollar scheme to help their children into elite universities such as Harvard by cheating the admissions process. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

Scams do happen, though.

Romesh Vadivel, president of the the Association of Registrars of Universities and Colleges of Canada, said officials have seen some “pretty sophisticated and some not-so-sophisticated copies of academic transcripts where the individual … is adept at Photoshop, to put together a transcript that looks legit.”

They have also seen misrepresentations in terms of test scores and grade inflation. Sometimes high schools misrepresent the grades of students.

“But is it rampant? No.” 

He’s never heard of anything happening in Canada similar to what’s being alleged in the U.S., he said.

Part of that alleged scam involved parents hiring people to write standardized college entrance exams, like the SAT and ACT, for their children, according to U.S. federal prosecutors.

Other parents allegedly claimed their children had learning disabilities, which would have given them more time to take the exam, one of the factors of admission for the majority of U.S. post-secondary schools.

Not part of college admissions process

David Sidoo, a businessman and philanthropist in Vancouver, is alleged to have paid $100,000 for someone to take his son’s SAT in 2011. 

But in Canada, those sorts of standardized tests are not part of the post-secondary admissions process. 

“There’s a much greater culture [in the U.S.] of standardized testing from an earlier stage,” Astroff said. 

Although high school graduates in Canada don’t need to take standardized tests to apply to universities, professional graduate schools including law, medicine and business, do require those kinds of exams. 

While cheating on those kinds of tests could happen, Astroff suggested that would be rare, since at that point in their post-secondary career, “a student has probably proven themselves academically already.

“There’s additional hoops that you have to jump through at that level that are much more significant in terms of just the experiences that students need to get into professional school.”

Actress Felicity Huffman, left, and Lori Loughlin were among 50 people indicted in the alleged U.S. university admissions scam. (Lisa O’Connor, Tommaso Boddi/AFP/Getty Images)

Some application processes to Canadian colleges may also involve essays, but it’s not as important a part of the process as it can be in the U.S.

“So it’s less susceptible to that kind of fraud,” Levin said.

Instead, Canadian universities and colleges tend to rely fairly heavily on grades in their admission decisions.

“We’re not looking at letters of reference. We’re not looking at athletic qualities. Our focus is very much academic,” Levin said.

At the University of British Columbia, every aspect of a student applicant’s submissions is scored and ranked, Andrew Arida, deputy registrar of the school, said in an email.

“We can clearly, empirically tell where every applicant falls in relation to our cut-offs and all the other applicants,” he said. “Our system has much clearer determinants of how applicants are ranked and admissibility is determined.”

Some parents in the U.S. were also accused of staging photos of their children playing sports so they could be admitted to the schools as athletes.

“Athletics is very different in the U.S.,” said Levin. It’s a very significant part of U.S. colleges and universities.

“Here, we certainly do try to recruit good athletes but they still have to meet our admission requirements.”

Ivy league school competition

A major difference between American and Canadian schools is that the U.S. is home to a handful of prestigious Ivy League universities, which sparks fierce competition for admission.

This image of a woman playing water polo was allegedly submitted with a different woman’s university application as part of the U.S. college cheating scam. (U.S. Department of Justice court submission)

“The competitive landscape is also completely different,” Astroff said. “So the difference between top-tier and lower-tier schools in the United States is quite pronounced.”

“I would say that with most Canadian schools there’s less to differentiate them. So there will be less competition.”

Canada tends to have larger, more accessible public schools, Levin said. 

“So we don’t have any universities that are making offers to only four to five per cent of their applications.”