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This way of thinking is shared by many and leads to a "cheat where it doesn't count" way of thinking. "There is definitely a hierarchy of cheating; it's not a zero tolerance game," Austin says. "I had no problem cheating on my traffic school quizzes because it was basic information that lacked relevance." This type of cheating is more about maneuvering red tape and less about educating oneself.
Some even rank certain types of cheating differently. "I would never plagiarize. That is where I draw the line," Jenna says. "Plagiarism is stupid. It's the easiest and sloppiest way to get caught." And while getting caught is definitely a factor, there are long-term effects, too. "If you get caught plagiarizing as a professional in the field, not only do you lose your job but you pretty much end your career," Diane says.
For a generation facing high levels of unemployment and college debt, the educational climate is tougher than ever. "The economy is making it very hard for students to find jobs and internships. Sometimes cheating seems like the only way," Sarah says. "However, I find in most cases the best advice is to do the work and have confidence in yourself."
"For me, cheating isn't a way to succeed," Jake says, "but it is a way to get me through certain situations. I think your time at school and what you do after are separate." Students who cheat not only cut the workload in hopes of self-preservation, but they may actually be the more "conscientious" students, according to Diane. "Those who don't care as much about their grades don't seem to bother about cheating," Diane says. This may suggest that cheaters, in some ways, are making the smart decision for their future.
"You are only cheating yourself" is the theme of a lecture given to all students. But cheating is justified by promising to do better, to try harder and to be more honest in your next endeavor. Maybe middle school and high school didn't matter, so you cheated. And maybe freshman year was irrelevant to your major, so you cheated. And maybe you want to go to grad school—where things will really count— so you cheat until you get there. At what point will our best be good enough and honesty count?
As much as the temptation to cheat may be human nature, so is the moral question of integrity. Today's students seem to differentiate between the decisions they make in school and the decisions they believe they will make once in the "real world." Maybe we'll live up to being the lazy generation our parents and grandparents have feared us to be, and maybe we won't.
But to not have faith in ourselves? That cheats us in an entirely different way.