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Your College’s Honor Code: What You Need to Know

Sep 11, 2013 • Kevin Wandrei • College Tips
Every college has an honor code. Learn yours.

Every college has an honor code. Learn yours.

Coming straight from high school, you might find the concept of an honor code foreign and hard to grasp. That being said, comprehending and respecting the code is an important part of the college experience. Honor codes typically deal with topics that include cheating, plagiarism, multiple submissions, and misuse of university resources. Violations of a code can lead to punishments as severe as expulsion. If you’re overwhelmed by the code, here are the top items you should keep in mind:

Cheating: Use Common Sense

Cheating in college has the same definition it did in high school. On any exam, quiz, or homework assignment, do not copy or use unauthorized support to gain an unfair academic advantage. On the other side of this equation, don’t “help” anyone else by giving them answers to a test, quiz, or assignment.

Be especially mindful of cheating policies on take-home exams, which are something you likely didn’t have in high school. Even though you are allowed to complete the exam on your own time, this doesn’t mean you can work together with a friend (unless otherwise specified by your professor). If you’re unsure about a cheating policy, ask your professor about his or her policy regarding working together with peers.

Understand Plagiarism

While you probably wrote some essays in high school, you might not have delved deeply into the world of citations. In college, however, you must be very careful not to plagiarize others’ work. For example, if you write about another scholar’s ideas in an essay, you must cite that scholar’s name and work in your paper. Styles of citation will vary by school and even by field, so check with your professor about the citation method. Common styles include Chicago, MLA, and APA. Read your style guide carefully because there are many notorious gray areas surrounding the rules of citation. Ask questions if you need to.

Don’t Be Lazy: No Reusing Previous Work

College classes are occasionally repetitive. In my undergraduate career, for example, I read Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” for at least three different classes. Since I had to write about Weber in each of these three classes, it would have been easy to resubmit the same paper for each class. That, however, would be a violation of most honor code policies. All of the work you do for a class must be original to that class. Otherwise, you’re essentially plagiarizing yourself.

Be Careful When Using University Materials

This is perhaps the most surprising honor code standard, but there are clear rules regarding the use of university resources. If your professor puts a book on reserve in the library for your class to use, you cannot read the book, and then take if from the library so that no one else in your class can use it. Similarly, you can’t complete a laboratory assignment and then destroy the samples needed to conduct the experiment. Both of these incidents are tantamount to cheating: You are unfairly giving yourself an academic advantage over your peers. Just don’t do it.

While college honor codes can seem severe — and punishments definitely can be — the substance of most codes is common sense. From high school, you should have an intuitive understanding of cheating. Plagiarism is easy to grasp, and most students wouldn’t destroy school materials. The best way to know your honor code is to spend some time reading through your college’s rules, and ask questions if you’re ever unsure about something.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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