A senior at a cutthroat Virginia high school started an international scandal with a bizarre story about Harvard and Stanford

Harvard University Widener Library Campus StudentsVia Wikimedia CommonsHarvard University.

A graduating senior at a cutthroat Virginia magnet school has sparked an international scandal with her claims about being accepted to a joint program at Harvard and Stanford — a story that both universities have flatly denied.

Washington Post education reporter T. Rees Shapiro has a great breakdown of how a “Korean maths prodigy” at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology — known as TJ — convinced South Korean media outlets that both elite universities worked together to create a unique program just for her. Shapiro also addresses the environment at TJ that may have led the student, identified as “Sara,” to make up such a story.

“In breathless coverage in the Korean media, the student was hailed as the ‘genius girl’ who made her parents immensely proud by gaining acceptance and scholarships at two of the best schools in the country,” Shapiro writes. “According to Korean reports, she soon had Harvard and Stanford professors fighting for her to enroll.”

Other details about Sara that made the rounds in South Korean media include that she received multiple acceptance letters from each school and that she was personally called by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a pitch for Harvard, his alma mater. A spokesman for Zuckerberg declined to comment, according to the Washington Post.

According to the supposed arrangement between Harvard and Stanford, Sara would spend two years studying in California and then two years in Massachusetts, before deciding where she would like to receive her degree from. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency posted personalised admissions letters addressed to Sara from the admissions directors at both Harvard and Stanford.

Both universities have confirmed that a joint program does not exist, and that the admissions letters were forgeries.

Stanford universityBeck Diefenbach/ReutersCyclists pass through Stanford’s Main Quad.

Sara’s story may have been born from the intense pressure TJ students face regarding college acceptances. For example, her classmates included one student who was accepted to all eight Ivy League universities this year.

In an statement to Yonhap, Sara’s father confirmed the hoax, and apologised to everyone involved in the story.

“I am deeply repentant that I failed to watch properly over how painful and difficult a situation the child has been in so far and that I even aggravated and enlarged her suffering,” her father wrote. “From now on, the whole family will live a quiet life, devoting ourselves to getting the child cured well and taking good care of her. Please forgive me for being unable to offer detailed explanations as the situation has not been completely figured out yet.”

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