College Admissions: America’s High School Cheating Epidemic

Monday, September 23, 2013


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The best defense against being labeled as a cheater is a clear understanding of what constitutes cheating and how to play by the rules. Photo: Jared Stein

The other day, a beautiful and bright high school senior sat in my office discouraged with school. Why? "Half of the kids are cheating" she told me. They pass around notebooks with exams, papers and other materials from past students.

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Sadly, I wasn't surprised, Despite more than 20 students being caught in a single cheating scandal at the same school last year, most students feel entitled to cheat. What most of them don't realize is that they are setting a dangerous precedent. In addition to skipping the building blocks of knowledge for college, students are also putting their futures at risk.

Cheating: an acceptable "prank"

Students think about getting caught and suspended, but they rarely consider how it will affect where they matriculate for college—and it WILL. Students have handed in papers that another student authored the previous year, copied lab reports, plagiarized from the Internet, and received pictures of a test taken by cell phone. Among many high school groups, cheating has become viewed as a sort of acceptable “prank”, a rite of passage, a cultural norm.

What students fail to understand is that colleges view it much more seriously. They regard academic dishonesty as one of the most egregious offenses you can commit, an indication of a serious character flaw. They will often forgive a student who is caught drinking or smoking pot, but they will rarely overlook offenses involving cheating or violence.

Being caught will haunt you

In considering the risks of cheating, the first thing students need to realize is that being caught will haunt them as they apply to colleges. You must sign a statement on the Common Application that asks if you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution. Most high schools can and will take action regarding cheating—so you will be obligated to answer yes to that question if you are caught.

If you lie about a disciplinary violation and the college finds out, it is grounds for immediate dismissal. How would a college discover your infraction if you don’t report it? First, your school guidance office is REQUIRED to disclose any disciplinary actions to your colleges when you submit your application, through the time when you graduate.

No reason for a college to accept a student who's cheated

Colleges have a lot of applicants to choose from these days, and quite honestly, there is no reason for them to accept someone who cheated when they have other qualified candidates who do not have black marks against them. They may also question how many of your grades are valid and were achieved without cheating. If you are caught cheating after getting into college, in senior year—every college acceptance is conditional on you maintaining the same grades and demonstrating good behavior. Disciplinary violations will often result in a college rescinding your acceptance.

If your high school doesn't tell them, a parent might

What is the other way colleges find out, even if your school fails to report it? Other parents and students inform them. A few years ago, a local private school neglected to notify a college about a marijuana incident with a student who had received an early decision acceptance. The parent of a classmate who had been deferred from that same college called admissions and reported it—with the hope that it would free up a spot for her child. It’s not pretty, but it happens all the time.

Parents need to talk to their children about cheating, what it says about character, and the dire consequences. They also need to allow children to do their own work—because completing assignments for a student or writing essays for them can foster an environment in which the line on cheating becomes blurred for kids. Today, colleges and some high schools are beginning to use software like Turnitin to scan essays and catch plagiarism. So, the chances of being caught are higher than ever. The best defense against being labeled as a cheater is a clear understanding of what constitutes cheating and how to play by the rules.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC, a Providence-based educational consulting firm which provides strategic, individual counseling for college-bound students.


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