Between 75%–98% of college students admit to having cheated in high school. Typically when one thinks of a “cheater,” they think of some hooligan who doesn’t even try to learn the class material. But even top students who make good grades cheat. Cheating in school might seem like a harmless little shortcut, but there are real and seriously harmful repercussions—whether or not you get caught. Let's take a look at why students cheat, the serious consequences you can face, and more honest alternatives for when you need academic help.
Common reasons students cheat
There's no excuse for cheating, but many students still try to come up with reasons to try to justify it. Have you ever had one of the following thoughts?
“I want to get the grade, not the education”
With the pressure to achieve a high GPA and class rank, it’s easy to lose sight of what school is actually about: learning. You're in school to get a good education, first and foremost. Then you are expected to demonstrate your knowledge in your good grades. Learn the material; the grades will follow. And if you’re so overwhelmed that you think cheating is your only way to keep your grades up, there are much better options (keep reading!).
“If I cheat, I’m only affecting myself”
Wrong! By cheating, you’re stealing the work of another student who has put in the time to learn the material. By cheating and getting a good grade you didn’t actually earn, you can also hurt the curve for the entire class and make the students who are struggling with the material believe there is something wrong with them for not understanding.
“My teacher isn’t any good, so it’s okay if I cheat to get by in that class”
While it's unfair for any student to have a low-caliber teacher, it isn’t fair for anyone to cheat. When you cheat and make a good grade without understanding the material, the teacher thinks they’ve taught the criteria well, and they will continue to teach the same way or perhaps at a faster pace.
Consequences of cheating in school
It’s way more than a Saturday suspension. Here are just a few things that could happen when you cheat in your high school or college courses—it could affect a lot more than you think!
Cheating in high school
- You could get an automatic failure for the assignment.
- You could get an automatic failure for the whole course.
- You could be expelled or punished in other ways.
- Your teacher, friends, family, teammates, coaches, etc. could lose respect for you.
- You could hurt your own self-esteem, mess with your ability to actually think critically and solve problems, and develop a warped sense of morality.
- Cheating goes on your permanent record, which brings me to…
When applying to colleges
- The black mark on your permanent record could cost you your chances of getting into your top college—or any college.
- Scholarship providers could also see your permanent record and not offer you scholarships.
- Teachers won’t provide you with good (or any) recommendation letters. Even if you don’t get caught cheating, when you need a teacher to write your recommendation letter for college or job applications, they’ll remember that one time your Scantron answers looked eerily similar to someone else’s, and they won’t hesitate to tell your dream college or future employer about it. (Your teachers aren’t clueless, even though you think they might be.)
Cheating in college
- You could be suspended or expelled.
- You could lose your scholarship(s) or, again, not get any in the first place.
- You could face copyright infringement troubles. That’s right—you could be sued for cheating on a paper.
Then there’s the aftermath of cheating in the “real world.” You will not have developed that skill you cheated on. And if you think you “got away” with cheating in high school or college, you might be tempted to take other shortcuts in life. But out in the real world, those shortcuts have pretty bad repercussions too. You know, like getting fired—not to mention losing the respect of those around you.
Alternatives to cheating
Okay, so you’re struggling in class. Cheating seems like your only option. Obviously it's not, and you should try to learn the material and do the work on your own. But if struggling to do that is why you’re thinking about cheating in the first place, here are some ways to rise above:
- Ask your teacher, friends, or upperclassmen for help. You might be surprised by how much people can and want to help you!
- Get a tutor. Your high school, college, or local library might offer free tutoring. Or if there is NHS at your high school, many of the inductees need to get volunteer hours and would probably offer free tutoring. Check it out.
- Rethink how you spend your time. If you’re so overwhelmed with school work and activities that you think cheating is a solution, it’s time to rethink your priorities. Maybe it’s time to quit a club, change your class schedule, or give up your Tuesday night bowling league. (Or at the very least, rethink how you budget your time.)
- Remember what’s really important. Yes, the learning. But if you’re hell-bent on getting the grades so you can get into a super selective college, you’re missing the point of what college is all about.
- Use resources online. There are study guides and advice for basically every academic subject, every book you’ve been assigned, and every kind of homework problem. Watch some videos, read some stuff. (Just be careful relying on the answers you get from public online forums and familiarize yourself with what counts as plagiarism!)
Related: 5 Secrets to Getting Good Grades
Long story short: You shouldn’t cheat. Besides all the reasons listed above, don’t you owe it to yourself to work honestly? In the words of Journey, don’t stop believing…in yourself and all that you can do—not the guy sitting next to you in Physics class.
Need help handling all your classes, tests, homework, and other assignments? Check out our Majors and Academics section for expert tips on acing everything the right way.