Woman Busted For Posing as Columbia University Freshman Has Nothing on the All-Time Great College Impostors


Only two weeks!

That’s how long the woman caught last week pretending to be a freshman at Columbia University was able to maintain her charade.

A short run indeed.

The alleged impostor is believed to be a 26-year-old woman named Briva Patel, police told the Columbia student publication Bwog.

Assuming the identity of Rhea Sen, a 20-year-old freshman at the university, Patel succeeded for a short time in getting actual students to buy into her sham, according to a report by the Columbia Daily Spectator.

According to Spectator, although Patel was never enrolled at Columbia in any capacity, she participated in several freshman orientation activities, including a tour of the city and a trip to Brooklyn for last month’s Afropunk Fest.

Orientation leaders and other students found Patel’s behavior a bit strange, but they initially chalked it up to social awkwardness. Spectator detailed actual freshman Cami Quarta’s odd encounters with Patel, including a botched journey to an event at the Bronx Zoo:

On her way to the party at the Bronx Zoo that capped off orientation week, Quarta and a friend wound up on the subway with Sen. Even though Quarta had been told to take the train to 180th Street, Sen showed her a text message she claimed to be from her [orientation leader] instructing her to get off at an earlier stop and take a bus. The two heeded Sen’s advice, winding up far from their intended destination. A helpful police officer steered the three of them back on the subway.

“If I was alone, I don’t know where I would’ve wound up,” Quarta said. “That was probably the first sign that showed she might have been a risk.”

Soon, [orientation leaders] started to get suspicious. Sen told Quarta that she lived on the sixth floor of Hartley Hall, and the next day that she lived in Carman 6B, which is not the way rooms in Carman Hall are numbered. Students said they were still unsure where she slept across the 14-day period she spent on campus. “People saw her running around, hiding in bushes, but as far as I know, nobody actually saw her in the residence halls,” Quarta said.

“Eventually, she tried to make friends with our first-year students, and it just got to the point where her lies were too obvious,” Lin said.

Campus officials were alerted to Patel’s ruse, she was spotted on campus grounds Thursday night and removed by university public safety officers. Apparently Patel’s resolve to be a part of the Columbia community wasn’t all that weakened by Thursday’s incident because she was spotted on campus again the very next day. This time police arrested Patel.

Let’s see how Patel’s two-week run stacks up against her predecessors:

Adam Wheeler

When : 2007-2009

Where: Harvard University

Enrolled: Yes
Age at that time: 20-23?

How Long at College: Over 2 years

Strengths: Ambitious, Academic Climber, Worked Hard at Lying

Highlights: Fabricated SAT scores, letters of recommendation, Won Several undue awards including a Rockefeller research grant

Downfall: Had to pay back $45, 806 in restitution money, Plagiarized full research papers, Lied about everything

Overall (Completely Arbitrary Score): A+

Azia Kim

When: 2006-2007

Where: Stanford University

Enrolled: No

Age at that time: 18

How Long at College: Eight months
Strengths: Committed to performing imaginary tasks

Highlights: Did good job studying for exams and doing work for classes she didn’t have, Bought textbooks for classes she didn’t have, Effectively stressed out over tests she never took

Downfall: Was never actually enrolled, stayed on campus without official housing, an id card or a meal plan

Overall (Completely Arbitrary Score): B

Akash Maharaj


Where: Yale University

Enrolled: Yes

Age at that time: 27-28?

How Long at College: Over 2 years

Strengths: No regard for Honesty, Capable student,

Highlights: Fabricated transcript (with 18 A’s), Almost graduated without getting

Downfall: Ex-boyfriend exposed him (it’s complicated)

Overall (Completely Arbitrary Score): A-

Esther Reed


Where: Columbia University

Enrolled: Yes
Age at that time: 26-28?

How Long at College: 2 years

Strengths: Seamlessly transitions between identities, Multi-tasker

Highlights: Successfully assumed the identity of missing person, Assumed several other identities outside of Columbia

Downfall: Assumed too many different identities, Bout with depression prevented her from successfully keeping the lie going

Overall (Completely Arbitrary Score): A+