Hacking the US College Application Process

by Vins
Published: Updated:

According to a ProPublica investigation, foreign companies are increasingly helping students from China and other countries hack the US college application process with information and test answers acquired online. International students are being given direct answers to college entrance exams and even fully written applications and completed course work once they arrive on campus. The College Board, which creates and administers the SATs, is aware that their tests are being leaked online, but still continues to use the same tests in other countries.

The number of foreign students in American universities has nearly doubled in part because of unethical, for-profit companies helping them be admitted. Two companies that have been identified are Transcend and Fanyi Translation, both known for ghostwriting, faking transcripts, and more. The core of the problem is American schools are seeking out money and people who will pay full tuition costs. And in recent years they are recruiting heavily in China, as well as other countries such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea. As a result of the high number of students being recruited, an industry was created to help students get into the top American schools. But, these companies aren’t playing fairly and have learned to game college entrance exams.

The College Board recycles tests that are given in the US, and then re-used overseas. Chinese companies are monitoring websites where students communicate with each other and compare answers on the tests. These companies are collecting this information and making books, or jijings, to give to students before they take the test. On average, these companies are charging Chinese families between $12,000 and $18,000 for their services. After looking into this problem, the College Board determined that it would be too expensive to throw out the tests and create new ones. Their solution was to avoid distributing the test to areas where they knew that the answers had been leaked and give the test to other countries, which ultimately was irrelevant because the tests are online, making them accessible to any country. Because of this students are unfairly being admitted into the highly selective American colleges in place of other students who rightfully earned the chance to be there. A third of the hundreds of thousands of foreign students come from China and over 50% of those enrolled have used fake application materials to get accepted.

There has barely been any corporate media coverage of this story at all. The only coverage out there right now is on less prominent media platforms like ProPublica and Reuters. There was some coverage in the Wall Street Journal, but it focused primarily on China and didn’t address the fact that the College Board had confirmed administering tainted tests and refused to change the tests before administering them overseas. In 2015, the New York Times ran an article on the arrest of Chinese students caught using test-taking imposters.


Annie Waldman , “Hacking the American College Application Process.” ProPublica, August 29, 2016, https://www.propublica.org/podcast/item/hacking-the-american-college-application-process.

Qing Koh Gui, Harney Alexandra, Stecklow Steve, Pomfret James, “How an Industry Helps Chinese Students Cheat Their Way into and through U.S. Colleges,” Reuters, May 25, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/college-cheating-iowa/.

Student Researcher: Samantha Gambuzza (North Central College)

Faculty Researcher: Steve Macek (North Central College)