One of my Collegewise colleagues who worked in admissions at a highly selective college once described an occasion where he called an applicant to clarify something about a letter of recommendation that was part of her file. The letter had mentioned the student’s work in her junior year, but according to the transcript, she’d taken that particular course her sophomore year. He didn’t suspect that anything was amiss—he just wanted to make sure they were connecting the correct course with the correct teacher.

But as soon as he got the applicant on the phone and identified himself, she hung up. He later discovered the student had written the letter herself and forged the teacher’s name.

We both had the same reaction—was it worth it?

This student was a strong applicant. She had a shot at being admitted. But clearly some combination of the pressure, her desperation to be admitted, or her general anxiety had driven her to do something so risky that it completely torpedoed her application once it was discovered. None of her other credentials mattered at that point.

This is a particularly egregious example, but it’s not at all uncommon for students to counter responsible warnings about bending (or breaking) the truth with, “But how would they ever know?”

And to that question, I always give the same reply.

Are you sure you want to risk it to find out?