Pressure can often drive people to do things they never dreamt of.
“It does happen, and there’s really not much you can do about it,” said Ruth Rechten, a retired english professor from Monmouth University in New Jersey. “It’s not fair to the others who worked so hard.”
Many children are taught to never lie, steal or cheat. They are told these actions are morally wrong. But as adults, perspectives can change. Pressure to be the best and to surpass peers can affect our choices. Perhaps that is why so many students admit to cheating in their academics.
The expectations for college students to be successful continues grow. Employers want to see work experience, internships and valuable life skills on the resumes of their future employees. The added stress to meet these demanding requirements leaves many students in over their heads, searching for a way out. Earning a college degree is no longer enough so some students bend the rules to separate themselves from the crowd.
“My parents don’t want me passing with C’s, they want me to get A’s,” said finance major Joe Schisselbauer, a junior at Towson University.
Since 1963, the rate of students who admitted to cheating in school has hardly wavered from 75%. Despite the no tolerance policy for academic dishonesty upheld by universities across the country, students still feel the need to get ahead, even through immoral means.
Ariana Meinz, a senior math major at the University of North Carolina, denies ever
cheating in her academic career, but said given the opportunity to cheat risk free, she would do it.
“Sometimes I think tests are the best reflection of your knowledge of the class, and yet they are weighted so heavily,” Meinz said. “I had a math class that was 40% of my final grade. You spend a whole semester in a class and yet almost half of your grade is judged in three hours. This doesn’t even consider external factors or other exams or pressures. I definitely think if I had some safety net of cheating, I would.”
Even students attending Ivy League universities face the ever-growing pressure. During the spring of 2012, nearly 125 students from Harvard University were investigated for a campus wide collaboration on a take-home exam, after which many students faced expulsion or suspension.
“There was a girl who cheated in my class last semester,” said Rebecca Kirman, 22, a senior majoring in education at Monmouth University. “And the teacher caught her and ripped up her test and she got a zero.”
While many people associate cheaters with laziness, the reality is that the new generation of college students face a whole new set of problems. Though lack of interest and ambition are certainly factors that contribute to dishonest behavior, one of the leading reasons why students cheat is competition.
“College is really competitive,” said Elizabeth Henne, a dental hygienist student at the
Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “If I could help myself out a bit for the sake of my grade and
getting through this program, then yes I would cheat.”
But has she? No. Like Henne, many students see cheating as a moral dilemma.
“I would feel guilty if I was constantly trying to cheat and take the easy way out with all the tests,” Henne said. “I’d be losing anyway by not learning the material properly.”
Others feel that cheating is the only way to get through exams. Late night of study sessions and countless trips to the local coffee shop can leave students exhausted. Kate Alisea, a sophomore health care management major at Towson University, says that without a teacher-permitted cheat sheet, students might as well go into exams without having studied at all.
“Cumulative exams set you up for failure,” Alisea said. “Professors pull out these details from the beginning of the semester, but there’s no way you are going to remember all of it. I know it’s not good to cheat, but sometimes you have to. They ask the most obscure questions, and for what?”
With five final exams scheduled in a three day period, Alisea recalls several panic attacks she had during the days leading up to her tests. Though she said she used to cheat more in high school, the stakes are set too high in college for her to get caught.
University of South Carolina senior Kristen DiReda said the lack of preparation time within her busy schedule is why she and her friend shared answers on a take-home quiz. DiReda said that a short quiz was the least of her worries, and devoted most of her time to major assignments.
While some students cheat on smaller assignments, others use their discretion when it comes to cheating on exams and projects because they have been scared straight. Schisselbauer said that his habits from high school continued through to his academic career in college, but one close call during his final exams in his freshman year made him jump off the band wagon.
“One of my friends sent me an Excel spreadsheet with equations for a final I had,”
1Schisselbauer said. “But once she sent me the link I was just too scared to use it. Thank God I didn’t. Another friend of mine got the link too but he left the tab open in the classroom during the exam and the teacher found it. It was just too risky.”
Though the amount of students who have admitted to cheating has not changed in over 50 years, the method of catching them has. With the aid of the internet, colleges are able to use websites such as Turnitin and SafeAssign that detect certain percentages or similarities between books, articles or previous students’ work. Rechten said grading papers would take countless hours, but she wanted to be sure her students were academically honest.
“I had a boy in high school who cheated in order to get into the honors society,” Rechten said. “But it was out of my hands, there was nothing I could do. It’s pretty difficult to deal with.”
After the collegiate level, cheating, such as plagiarism, can be career ending. Award winning journalists have ruined careers, such as 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Janet Cooke who admitted to fabricating a story about a missing young boy two days after she was given the award. Her career came to a screeching halt.
Sadly, the repercussions for cheating can be life changing. If caught, college students risk expulsion from their university which will be marked on their transcripts and jeopardize future academic plans. As to why some students cheat, there are too many reasons to count. However, one thing is for certain, cheating is not risk free.