Students are faced with an enormous amount of pressure. Often with more to do than can be done in a 24-hour day. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, some of us will take a short cut. It may be copying someone else’s work, asking someone do an assignment for us, or some other way of meeting course demands without demonstrating a personal understanding of the material. Regardless of the outcome, the consequences are there.
What could cheating mean for you?
Despite the massive consequences cheating can have (e.g., failing the class or getting kicked out of school), it happens quite a bit—almost 30 percent of students surveyed in a recent Student Health 101 poll admitted to cheating at some point in their academic career.
The problem is, cheating doesn’t always feel as black and white as Googling answers under your desk or paying someone to write a paper for you. “I believe, for the most part, students don’t come to college intending to cheat,” says James Black, director of the Center for Academic Achievement at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. “More often than not, they get overwhelmed and panic.”
However, “the value of your degree depends on the integrity of your degree,” says Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate education at American University in Washington DC, which is why schools take cheating so seriously. If you’re unsure of Ashford’s policy on cheating, check out the academic catalog section on Academic Dishonesty. Also be sure to check out the Protect Yourself from Scams infographic for great tips on avoid sites that try to look like academic resources.
Why students cheat—and how to avoid it
Considering the consequences of getting caught cheating, why do so many students do it? “Lack of time management,” says Waters. It’s not hard to see how this happens. Many students are dealing with a large set of responsibilities including pressure to keep their GPA up, employment, and caring for children or elderly parents. These intense pressures could make anyone feel stressed and even desperate..
Waters agrees that most students who cheat don’t usually set out with the intent to be dishonest—they find themselves in a situation where cheating seems like their best or only option. “Often, students who cheat haven’t set aside enough time to complete a paper,” she says. “[They] start researching online at 2 a.m. and find themselves copying and pasting material to cobble [it] together. This is a recipe for disaster.”
Unfortunately, no matter how understandable a little cheating might seem, it’s still a serious risk to your academic career.
How to avoid the temptation to cheat
One of the best ways to keep yourself out of a situation where you’re tempted to cheat is by practicing better time management. Here’s how:
1. Check your syllabi at the beginning of the course and flag any due dates that fall close to other obligations.
If you’re worried about this happening, block out specific days to work on each assignment leading up to the due dates. This way, it’s already in your calendar and you can tackle one piece at a time.
2. Give yourself plenty of time to research.
When it comes to papers (even the short ones), “set aside enough time to thoroughly research, write it carefully, and then have time to check that you’ve properly attributed and cited any resources,” says Waters. “When in doubt, cite!” If you have the ability to build it in, using the Ashford Writing Center or leveraging some of the available tutoring services is another great way to keep your work original and on point!
3. Get organized.
“Taking extra time to organize might feel like you’re taking time away from your studies, but being organized will actually give you so much more time in the long run,” says Delaina E., a first-year student at Boise State University in Idaho. “Being organized cuts down on anxiety and allows you to just focus on what you need to.”
4. Ask for help.
If you do find yourself in trouble, whether it’s a time crunch or struggling with the material, ask for help—the earlier, the better. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, let your Instructor and/or Advisor know as soon as possible. They may be more sympathetic earlier in the process (e.g., allowing an extension on an assignment, a recommendation to get accommodations, an appointment to go over material you don’t understand well, etc.) rather than to an eleventh-hour plea. “Most professors are kind and understanding, and so much stress and struggle can be avoided if you say something—communication is key,” says Tiffany K., a fifth-year undergraduate student at the University of Victoria in Canada.
Citing sources to avoid plagiarism
It’s also important to ensure you know when and how to cite sources properly, since not doing so could be considered plagiarism. If you’re unclear on proper citation conventions—how to document sources and ideas in your work—visit the Ashford Writing Center or the Ashford Library. You can also speak with a classmate or consult your instructors.
What to do if you get caught
“If you’re accused of plagiarism or other academic dishonesty, make sure you understand your school’s policy and the potential sanctions,” says Waters. “While such a charge can have severe consequences—including dismissal—it’s important to view this as an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson”—for example, how to avoid getting in a situation where you end up cheating.
If you’re allowed to remain enrolled in the class, make sure you’re 100 percent clear on what behaviors are considered cheating and exactly what put you in the position to cheat in the first place. The Ashford Catalog section on academic integrity is a good resource if questions remain.
Above all, be honest. ”If you try to lie, make excuses, or make up stories to hide your tracks, it’ll only make things worse,” says Isra A., a fourth-year undergraduate at Texas Women’s University.
Ultimately, the consequences just aren’t worth it—no matter how easy or justifiable cheating seems. “I did it once and realized that you can never feel good about yourself or your accomplishments if you cheat,” says Lynne M.*, a fourth-year undergraduate at Cuesta Community College in California. “I have never done it again—I would rather try and fail and be proud of my efforts than cheat.”
For more information about these topics, as well as your school’s honor code, consult your dean’s office, writing lab, or peer tutoring program.
James Black, director, the Center of Academic Achievement, Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.
David Rettinger, executive director, the Center for Honor, Leadership, and Service, and associate professor of psychology, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate students, American University, Washington DC.
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