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How do I verify if a someone actually graduated with distinction?
September 6, 2010 6:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I find out if someone actually graduated with distinction?

I've received a resume for a project, and there seems to be something a bit off about it. I not only googled the applicant's name but also some projects he claimed to have worked on and came up with nothing. I mean really nothing. However, the applicant's resume is FILLED with accolades and honors (the type that would surely be documented in at least a few publications). He claims to have graduated with distinction, and yet I can not find one reference to him on the school's website or in local publications. I've searched for references to this person through relevant scholarly databases and come up with bupkis. How can I verify that this person actually graduated with distinction*?

* Note: At this point, I am not interested in verifying this information to hire him. However, this resume brought up an interesting problem. It seems odd to me that I can not find one trace of him on the web, but perhaps I am wrong about how easy this information would be to find. I figured the super sleuths of mefi could set me straight.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might give us a hint on what country he graduated in. I've never heard the term "with distinction" in the USA, but it was used when I graduated in Ireland many moons ago.

I suspect you'd have to ask him for a copy of his diploma or whatever piece of paper he claims to have. In Ireland a pass with "credit" or with "distinction" was written on the diploma. Thankfully not every scrap of info is publicly available online, for some you still have to go back to the source.
posted by Long Way To Go at 6:21 PM on September 6, 2010


Call the university's Registrar Office, or local equivalent.
posted by zamboni at 6:23 PM on September 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


Long Way to Go, UNC - Chapel Hill uses "with distinction" and "with highest distinction".

How old is the degree supposed to be? How old are the honors? If you google for the names of the honors, do you get anything to confirm their existence?

You may have to have a release form to get a verification from the university registrar, but it might be worth trying a phone call to see what they'll tell you.
posted by dilettante at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2010


He claims to have graduated with distinction, and yet I can not find one reference to him on the school's website or in local publications.

I think this is one of "I don't think that word means what you think it means" things.

I graduated from college with high distinction. There are two and only two methods in the entire universe for you to verify this information. One would be to come to my office and see my diploma, and the other would be to get a copy of my transcript.

There would certainly be no mention of my graduating with high distinction anywhere in the university's webspace, or in any publication. Nor would it appear in any scholarly database.

I can't speak to the rest of this person's absence from the internet. But "graduated with distinction" is sort of like "was on Dean's List." It ain't gonna appear anywhere but the transcript. In the case of my university, "high distinction" meant that I wrote an undergraduate thesis and had a final gpa of 3.7something. At other universities it might mean simply graduating with a high gpa.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 PM on September 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


At my school, I believe graduation "with distinction" was granted to anyone with an overall GPA higher than 3.3 - nearly 40% of the graduating class. It was only "published" in the graduation program and on our diplomas - I don't even think it's on our transcripts.
posted by muddgirl at 6:36 PM on September 6, 2010


I graduated undergrad "with highest honours", and while that phrase is written on my diploma (and is visible on the wall in my office), there's no record of it online. Doesn't mean it's not true!
posted by Hildegarde at 6:40 PM on September 6, 2010


the applicant's resume is FILLED with accolades and honors (the type that would surely be documented in at least a few publications). He claims to have graduated with distinction, and yet I can not find one reference to him on the school's website or in local publications. I've searched for references to this person through relevant scholarly databases and come up with bupkis.

If you're going to be Googling job applicants, I recommend not making all these assumptions. It's one thing to Google someone and find out some unsavory stuff about them, and hold this against them. But using the absence of webpages about someone as a strike against the applicant? Unless he claimed there was such a webpage, or unless you have a specific reason to know that the info would be online if it were true (and this has to be a lot more specific than "it's so impressive you'd think someone would have written about it on the internet"), that's really unfair.

There are plenty of people who just haven't left much of a trace online at all -- and yes, some of these people have still won impressive awards and academic distinctions. We're not talking about a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize here. It's not like you found a comprehensive list of everyone who won the annual ____ Prize from 2000 to 2010 and his name wasn't on it even though he claimed he won it in 2007. You're just ... hoping that a website exists with the exact content you'd like to see. The fact that no such website exists does not reflect poorly on the applicant.

Google hasn't replaced all traditional sources of information. If you need to verify something about an applicant's academic standing, the appropriate procedure is either to ask him for a transcript or contact the registrar.
posted by John Cohen at 6:50 PM on September 6, 2010 [26 favorites]


Call the school. You'd be amazed at how many people fake stuff on their resumes, myself included, back in the pre-Google era.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:53 PM on September 6, 2010


Looks like for my university at least, degrees can be confirmed at the Student Clearing House but you need a SSN to get the degree information.
posted by shothotbot at 6:54 PM on September 6, 2010


If everything else looks kosher, I would just assume it was true.

If it all looks good, and you'd hire him if you could confirm the 'distinction', ask for a transcript.

Asking for a transcript, just cause you're curious, is a pain for the applicant (He might not have one, and would have to pay the university to acquire a copy).
posted by antiquark at 6:56 PM on September 6, 2010


Could there also be a name change screwing up the google results?
posted by msbrauer at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


For those suggesting that the OP simply "call the school," please note that in the United States, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents disclosure of a student's academic record without that student's consent.

(I am not anyone's attorney, and this is not legal advice.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:15 PM on September 6, 2010


Out of curiosity, I just googled myself after reading this question. I graduated from college with honors, got a "distinction" on my senior thesis, and was involved with a few groups. Every possible permutation of "my name + college name" or "my nickname + college name" or "my name + town-where-my-college-was-located name" returns exactly zero results relevant to any of those achievements or activities. And I went to college in the not-very-distant-at-all, Google-friendly past. So, concurring that lack of a Google paper-trail does not indicate someone is lying.

Actually, "my name + my employer of three years" or "my name + my current city" don't really return anything either. I'm pleasantly surprised that I have this level of Google anonymity, though this thread has me wondering if it's going to make me less employable by skeptical bosses.

To more directly answer the question, I have been asked for transcripts when applying for jobs, and don't think it's inappropriate to ask the applicant him/herself for some confirmation of their accolades.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:26 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not common for universities in the US to put graduation information on the web that includes anything to do with grades, distinctions, etc....Unless it was an award that was in someone's name, which usually gets printed in the school paper somewhere.

That said, more often than you would imagine, I have students and alums who fluff up their resumes with awards, etc. to stand out and just hope they won't get caught. Often they don't, unless they are dealing with security clearance, an HR person, or a hiring manager who's been 'fooled' before and is now 'super diligent'.

Usually the person just ends up outing themselves, by getting all "deer frozen in headlights still" when an interviewer asks if they can have permission to verify the information on their document. People are just not smooth about that, because it's so unexpected, and the mind starts to whirl to think about how to get out of it.
posted by anitanita at 7:49 PM on September 6, 2010


Did the person in question actually graduate in the last 10 years? I wouldn't expect anyone who graduated before that to have the fact of their graduation be particularly Googleable. And then, as you're hearing from other respondents, people who've graduated since relative "Internet ubiquity" aren't necessarily leaving an easily discernible online trail, either. Websites for university activities in particular are often short-lived and poorly maintained beyond students' initial enthusiasm. Whether the websites live on after students graduate completely depends on how vigorous the university's IT department is about scrubbing inactive accounts. And the advent of Facebook/Twitter/etc. has led to most students having virtually no online presence outside of social networks.

The only reason you can Google my name + the name of my university and find anything is that I was the editor of the college newspaper—and even then, link rot has made most of my articles/accolades impossible to find. Good luck finding much from anyone else's college days, even recent ones.
posted by limeonaire at 7:51 PM on September 6, 2010


I graduated with distinction, and it just meant my average was above a certain point. I doubt you could find the fact by googling it. (In fact, I just tried a few variations, and nothing came up. I don't have a super common name, either.)

It might not be that big a distinction, in actuality. There were probably dozens in my graduating class who finished with distinction, and it wasn't an enormous university by any means. What it actually means probably varies so much from school to school as to be meaningless.
posted by synecdoche at 7:52 PM on September 6, 2010


For those suggesting that the OP simply "call the school," please note that in the United States, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents disclosure of a student's academic record without that student's consent.
Unless the relevant info is designated as "directory information".
posted by zamboni at 7:57 PM on September 6, 2010


I think if "with distinction" is an official designation for graduates (like cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) the university can and will disclose it. Since it's generally announced at graduation, etc., it's no more private than the fact that you received a degree at all. Call the school; they can probably confirm it.
posted by jayder at 8:13 PM on September 6, 2010


"Call the university's Registrar Office, or local equivalent."

Nope. That would be illegal if you tried to get information about someone other than yourself.

What you want to ask for is an official (and under seal) transcript. A uni or college transcript is usually 10 or 15 bucks in the US and will have all relavent information about a person's academic history -- courses taken, grades recieved, honors/accolades received. (Mine shows GPA but also things like Phi Beta Kappa membership, with or w/o "honors" on my senior thesis (possibly related to "with distinction"), and how my GPA did or didn't land me cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude distinction.

I graduated in 1996, and I've googled myself before. I don't think you'd be able to find out any of this stuff about me, even today re: GPA, overall academic achievements. Same goes for my graudate degree and the institution that granted that. It's the job of a university registrar to keep all this stuff on file, but also generally to keep it very secret. It's nobody's business but your own, or until an employer wants to see the goods.

Thing is, official transcripts are commonplace in my field (teaching and curriculum development). Not so much in business but that kind of surprises me -- it's easy enough to ask a job applicant for a transcipt and to find out exactly how well they did or didn't do in school. If that matters to you, go for it. If not, so be it. I can't imagine why or how you'd find any of it on the internent, unless the person has a personal blog with a CV or resume putting it all out there.
posted by bardic at 8:44 PM on September 6, 2010


"Call the university's Registrar Office, or local equivalent."

Nope. That would be illegal if you tried to get information about someone other than yourself.


Sorry, not true. Registrar's offices all over the country verify information about graduates, including their graduation honors; here's one example (UT Austin). Type in the name "F*e*r*r*i*s, A*n*y*a" (without the stars).
posted by jayder at 9:15 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


My college only noted honors on the starchy paper pamphlet thing they handed out during commencement. And possibly on my transcript though I haven't seen one of mine in years or else I would check.
posted by anniecat at 9:43 PM on September 6, 2010


"Degrees and awards received" are specifically included in FERPA as "directory information" that an educational institution may make public after prior notice to the student, if they have not specifically requested that they not be. 20 USC §1232g(a)(5)(A). So, yes, many registrars will give this information out to anyone who asks.
posted by grouse at 9:46 PM on September 6, 2010


Nope. That would be illegal if you tried to get information about someone other than yourself.

Not really true. Most universities consider degrees, attendance dates, phone numbers, addresses, and achievements as public information unless the student has specified otherwise.
posted by Think_Long at 9:47 PM on September 6, 2010


I work at a university, and we've been told repeatedly to never ever give out any information about anyone ever -- not even a confirmation that they're currently a student or were one in the past. Not because we're required by law not to, but rather because we're not required by law to give out that information, and they really don't want anyone to screw up and give out too much information, so they've just gone with no information ever. Which is to say, calling the school might be helpful, and might not be, depending on the school.
posted by brainmouse at 9:57 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nope. That would be illegal if you tried to get information about someone other than yourself.

Also, as long as you're not lying, there's no circumstance where it would be illegal to ASK, it just might be illegal for them to TELL, depending on exactly what information you're asking for.
posted by brainmouse at 9:57 PM on September 6, 2010


Yes, Nthing that degrees and awards are directory information under FERPA and schools CAN confirm without the degree-holder's permission. (Not only did I clerk doing this sort of law, but we had a local political to-do a couple years back that was rather fascinating to watch where the candidate claimed a degree that she never earned ... apparently on the theory the school couldn't release the information and she was in the clear. She was wrong.)

On the googliness, I graduated magna cum laude. The internet has some articles mentioning that I graduated and where from, but the school itself does not list this information online, and I find no mention of my honors. You'd have to call the school or come look at my diploma ... which I'm not super-sure where it is. And, yes, you can require the applicant to have an official transcript sent directly from the school to you ... THAT the school won't send you without permission.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:08 PM on September 6, 2010


brainmouse, if you're a public school, you actually are required to give that information out under FOIA laws in most states ... but you can require people to fill out specific written requests for it and file it with the FOIA officer.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:09 PM on September 6, 2010


Eyebrows, I think brainmouse is correct:

Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act preempted state statute requiring disclosure of student expulsion records Rim of the World Unif. Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court, 104 Cal. App. 4th 1393, 129 Cal. Rptr. 2d 11 (2003)

and

Community college student records (Cal. Ed. Code § 67243) and university student records (Cal. Ed. Code § 76143) are also generally exempt [from FOIA]. Porten v. University of San Francisco, 64 Cal. App. 3d 825, 134 Cal. Rptr. 839 (1976).
posted by mlis at 10:46 PM on September 6, 2010


No. Those are both cases where FERPA precludes the disclosure. There is not necessarily such a preclusion in a listing of degrees and awards received. If FERPA allows the disclosure, there is nothing in those cases (both in the California, not federal courts, for that matter) to suggest that a Freedom of Information Act would not require the disclosure. There is no conflict between state and federal law in this case.

I should note that I was on the Admissions and Registration Committee of UT Austin and have more than a passing familiarity with these laws, although I am not a lawyer with specific experience in the area like Eyebrows McGee.
posted by grouse at 11:12 PM on September 6, 2010


Degree information, including honors, are exempt under FERPA. In my experience in Academia when someone says "you can't disclose that, FERPA!!!" nine times out of ten they are incorrect. At my school the appropriate office to contact was called "degree check." This applicant's university will have some equivalent office.
posted by nestor_makhno at 11:18 PM on September 6, 2010


Here is the specific passage from grouse's link:

(A) For the purposes of this section the term “directory information” relating to a student includes the following: the student’s name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended by the student.
posted by nestor_makhno at 11:19 PM on September 6, 2010


I went to a private college fwiw, but I'm still pretty certain that if you called my college today and asked for info. about me (with my name obviously) you would learn nothing beyonod the year I graduated (and maybe not even that).

Again, in education and teaching it's de rigeur to be asked for you, the job applicant, to send for an official, under-seal transcript to be sent to a potential employer. Having contacted my college and grad. school registars in the past year for precisely this purpose, I'd imagine any institution worth its salt has people assigned to do this full time (dig out the appropriate papers, have them notarized, then mailed away). In order to do this from abroad I had to sign a piece of paper, scan my signature, then send the .gif or whatever it was to the registrar's office.

Not that that wouldn't easy to fake, forge, or lie through, but in my experience registar's offices are pretty serious about protecting the information of their graduates. I hope I'm just not one of the lucky ones.
posted by bardic at 12:01 AM on September 7, 2010


At my university, ISTR they printed the names of everyone who was graduating each term in the last college paper for the term, and had some sort of indicator for honors next to the relevant name. Perhaps archives of the school's student newspaper would be a useful place to look to verify this sort of thing. And they might not show up on web searches if the school doesn't do a very good job with their archives (ie, stores them as images only, or otherwise not really search engine indexing accessible).
posted by galadriel at 6:01 AM on September 7, 2010


"Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act preempted state statute requiring disclosure of student expulsion records ...Community college student records (Cal. Ed. Code § 67243) and university student records (Cal. Ed. Code § 76143)"

RECORDS are exempt -- grades, disciplinary, medical, etc. DIRECTORY INFORMATION -- dates of attendance, names, dates of graduation, degree awarded -- are not.

Again, I'm on the board of a public educational institution and we just had student graduation information FOIAed and it turned into this gigantic THING (because the military asked, and then a black democratic congressperson asked, and then a white republican congressperson asked, and EVERYONE was sure we were either giving or denying information selectively based on wanting to sell their darlings to the military-industrial complex or supporting politicians selectively based on either race or party; in fact, no, we gave it to all of them since we were required to by law) -- but, yes, we are required to release that information when given a proper FOIA. We direct screaming parents to the state FOIA ombudsman and say, "Have at it."

But yeah, you call us and ask us for disciplinary records and we will tell you to go fuck yourself. The students are even referred to by number in the official closed-meeting minutes and those numbers are only matched with names in protected, sealed files.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:56 AM on September 7, 2010


Just chiming in with the others saying Google isn't a magic bullet by any means regarding this stuff. I graduated summa and there's no record of that in any form online, nor would I expect there to be. Getting inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and a couple of other honors societies, some in-department and some not, also isn't mentioned anymore online anywhere (there were department newsletter mentions initially, but they fade away quickly as those are seasonal). Just because Google doesn't turn up anything doesn't mean you should automatically be suspicious.
posted by ifjuly at 8:51 AM on September 7, 2010


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