Row of students taking a test

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One semester, Alyse C., a recent college grad, was struggling in one of her marketing classes. “I just wanted to do well enough on the exam that I could pull my grade up to a C or something,” she says. She found some tips online about how to hide her notes and see them during the test. “Of course, my teacher caught me. He didn’t embarrass me in front of the class, but he took my exam away.”

After the exam, Alyse’s professor spoke to her, and they went to the dean. Alyse says she feels very lucky to have gotten just a warning and an F, and she says she never did it again. “It wouldn’t have been worth getting kicked out of school,” she says.

What cheating could 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 copped to cheating at some point in their academic career.

Students passing notes

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 your school’s policy on cheating, check out your student handbook.

Why students cheat—and how to avoid it

Considering the consequences of getting caught cheating, why do so many students do it? “Cheating on exams is rarely premeditated,” says David Rettinger, executive director of the Center for Honor, Leadership, and Service at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. “It’s more commonly a crime of opportunity”—that is, students find themselves in a situation where the answers are available, and they take advantage of it.

Another major reason students cheat? “Lack of time management,” says Waters. It’s not hard to see how this happens. Many students are dealing with an intense class load, the pressure to keep their GPA up, and a part-time job to help with the cost of their education. These intense pressures could make anyone feel stressed and even desperate. Nichelle M.*, a fou