Adam Butler Wheeler, portrayed upon his arrest for fraud as a con artist whose brilliant forgeries landed him a coveted spot at Harvard, won over the admissions committee with an application rife with inconsistencies and an inscrutable personal essay, despite fake faculty recommendations that repeatedly praised his lucid writing.
A close examination of Wheeler’s application materials, obtained by the Globe, reveals neither a meticulous feat of deceit nor a particularly elaborate charade. At times, he was just plain careless...
Wheeler’s transfer application form, in which he states his intention to major in literature and become an academic, is riddled with discrepancies and implausible credentials.
A grade report from the College Board, which Wheeler has admitted faking, shows he earned the highest marks on 16 advanced-placement exams, an improbable feat. The majority of students taking AP exams take only one or two during their four years of high school, according to the College Board. Virtually none take 14 or more.
“It is extremely rare to take 16 AP exams over one’s high school tenure," said Jennifer Topiel, a College Board spokeswoman. “And to score a five on all of them is just exceptional"...
The application includes a fake recommendation letter from the Phillips Academy counselor that described Wheeler as “by far the most intellectually gifted and at the same time so incredibly unaffected, insightful, truly genuine student’’ he had ever worked with. (The letter included an incorrect middle initial for the counselor.)
In slanted, narrow handwriting, Wheeler’s signature on the application form authorized Harvard to request all secondary school records. It never did...
Wheeler, who actually spent his first two years of college at Bowdoin, sent Harvard a straight-A transcript from MIT, where he claimed to have enrolled as a freshman. The transcript included grades from the first semester at MIT, even though MIT does not give letter grades to first-year students during the fall term. He transferred to Harvard in 2007.
Wheeler also offered four recommendation letters from MIT professors, describing Wheeler as a brilliant philosopher and literary critic. But the professors named were actually on the faculty at Bowdoin, where Wheeler had been suspended for plagiarism...
He also submitted eight pages of poetry along with a short piece of prose about his parents’ divorce (his parents are still married): “A couple of weeks ago my mother called me into her room and handed me my father’s brief but no doubt handsomely phrased letter saying that he was leaving her. Having read it, I was inspired (at eleven) to let it flutter from my fingers to the carpet.’’
Wheeler’s application file also shows that he managed to dazzle a Harvard alumnus who interviewed him when he applied as a transfer student. The interview was conducted at Bowdoin — even though Wheeler claimed to be an MIT student — an incongruity that Wheeler explained by saying that he had finished his MIT courses early, had no final exams, and moved to Bowdoin midsemester to help an English professor there write a chapter of a Shakespeare book.
Wheeler so impressed the interviewer with his ability to fit seamlessly into college life at Bowdoin in such a short time, and with his seemingly genuine academic interest in Elizabethan literature, that the alumnus endorsed him for admission.
“Adam is an engaging conversationalist, mild and reflective in his delivery, seemingly enthusiastic but not anxious about Harvard’s decision, confident that he’ll make it work somehow (as he indeed has remarkably this spring)," wrote Peter Quesada, the interviewer. “If you have room for him, he would do well, and be indistinguishable from freshman entrants by the end of his sophomore year."
What was it President Reagan used to say? "Trust, but verify." It seems Harvard did a lot of the former but not too much of the latter.