An aspiring Indian American medical student, who used forgery to get admission and financial aid from three elite U.S. universities, was sentenced to five years’ probation April 23.
According to a statement from the Justice Department, Cavya Chandra, 26, of Carmel, Indiana, admitted as part of a plea deal she entered into last fall that between 2008 and 2014, she obtained admission to, and attended, three universities — Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis — by forging various documents, including academic transcripts and letters of recommendation. Chandra also pleaded guilty to forging financial aid documents at Cornell University.
At her sentencing April 23, she was ordered to pay $70,000 in restitution to Cornell; prosecutors stated she received more than $130,000 while at Cornell, much of which was federal direct student loan money provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
Chandra was facing a one year prison term.
The Justice Department laid out Chandra’s modus operandi last fall, after the suspect entered a guilty plea. In 2008, she was denied admission to the freshman class at Cornell University; she then applied to Carnegie Mellon University, submitting a forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. CMU accepted her into the class of 2009.
During her second semester at CMU, Chandra tried once again to get into Cornell by submitting a forged transcript showing she had a 4.0 GPA during her first semester at CMU. In fact, Chandra had a much lower GPA of 2.79.
She also submitted a forged high school transcript to Cornell, with a much higher GPA, as well as another forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. Chandra was admitted to Cornell in the fall of 2010.
In 2013, while still enrolled at Cornell, Chandra began the process of applying for medical school through the American Medical College Application Service. As part of her medical school application, Chandra submitted forged transcripts from Carnegie Mellon and from Cornell, according to the Justice Department.
Her elaborate forgery began to unravel as AMCAS reported to Cornell that it suspected Chandra had submitted a fraudulent transcript, and Cornell launched an internal investigation, during which it uncovered Chandra’s previous admissions fraud. When confronted by a university official, Chandra admitted that she had falsified information in her transfer application, and Cornell expelled Chandra in November 2013.
Following her expulsion from Cornell, Chandra applied for admission as a transfer student to Indiana University-Purdue, again submitting forged copies of her Carnegie Mellon and Cornell transcripts. Purdue admitted Chandra as a transfer student and gave her credit for a number of classes that she did not actually take or pass at Cornell. The university conferred a bachelor’s degree on Chandra in 2015, but rescinded it after her fraud was exposed.
Chandra’s lawyer, Kimberly M. Zimmer, said in a court filing that Chandra had “felt an enormous amount of pressure” from her parents to succeed academically, as reported by The Cornell Daily Sun. Zimmer described Chandra’s relationship with her mother as “strained” and said Chandra “felt that her mother’s love was contingent” on her “good grades and good looks,” which led her to develop “an unhealthy need to fulfill their high expectations at any cost.”
Chandra’s brother studies at Harvard University.
Following the sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith said in a press statement: “Whatever pressure students feel to get into a particular school, it cannot justify fraud.”
Jaquith also commented on Chandra’s fraud in obtaining financial aid. “We maximize opportunities for higher education by maintaining the integrity of financial aid programs, including taking action against dishonesty.”