I cheated at a language exam when I was eight years old. I finished early and noticed that I had accidentally left a dictionary in my drawer. I double-checked my answers and promptly got caught. The incident is probably unverifiable at this point: The physical evidence is long gone; the teacher probably retired; the school probably didn’t keep records or has already destroyed it. I might be the only person on the planet who still remembers it.

  • Should I mention this incident when being asked about academic integrity in job interviews or similar?

  • Should I tell graduate admissions?

I suspect the answer is no since it was so long ago and I was eight years old, but I’m afraid I might be rationalizing.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:12

8 Answers 8


As noted in the comments, actions committed long ago as a child are (and should be) entirely irrelevant to graduate admissions.

It is well understood that children do not have same ability as adults to comprehend the consequences on their actions. As a result, many legal systems wipe a child's record clean of most or all juvenile offenses upon reaching adulthood.

I would thus similarly argue that any academic offense predating your undergraduate education should generally neither be reported nor considered in an application for graduate school.

  • 62
    "Any academic offense predating your undergraduate education" - I'd say graduate school might be entitled to be interested if you cheated at A-levels, Baccalaureate, Abitur, NEWTs, etc (typically taken when one already is an adult, or about to become one in a few months). But for sure, cheating at primary school is irrelevant. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:23
  • 44
    Cheating on one's NEWTs is a rather impressive thing to do, I imagine.
    – aaron
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:44
  • 18
    @aaron It would take a Riddle or a Dumbledore to do so, but on the other wand, they wouldn't need to.
    – Deepak
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 7:07

The accepted answer is absolutely correct, but I'd like to make a point that I don't see anywhere else. Do you personally think that the incident in question has any bearing on your current academic fitness? I'm going to venture a guess that your answer is a solid "No".

Looking at it another way, were the situation reversed, would you care if an applicant to your program cheated once when they were 8 years old? Once again I'm going to have to guess your answer would be "No".

Frankly I bet that nearly everyone has cheated on a test or homework or something in their youth (I know, I know, citation needed). The only way that could have any relevance now if if that one incident became a pattern that followed you throughout your education or other parts of your life. I can personally say that I helped a couple friends cheat on tests in high school, and got caught once, but it never followed me into college because at that point I started taking education seriously and dropped all of my old bad habits like cheating, not studying, etc. When I was young I simply didn't care. As an adult, lack of caring can easily lead straight to unemployment.

  • 16
    Well, maybe nearly everyone, but not everyone. ;-)
    – EKons
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 18:35
  • 13
    I'm sure there are a few exceptions out there... But I've never known one :-] Maybe all my peers are degenerates
    – thanby
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 18:47
  • 3
    Have fun getting the citations :D
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 23:09
  • 7
    I do not recall cheating in my youth. People cheat on "high stakes" exams for reasons that should not apply to elementary school students. If an elementary school student is tempted to cheat, then the elementary school is not a good place.
    – emory
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 18:34
  • 3
    @emory - or the student has underlying issues that should be addressed and the school has not discovered this yet.
    – KevinDTimm
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 21:44

This answer is about the US educational system.

While the answer for your particular situation is simple --at the age of eight, for a minor offense, no one will be bothered about this-- I'm going to write a fuller answer to cover possible future questions about this general topic. I will include information about the undergraduate admissions process, because it is better documented, and because it will be useful for comparing and extrapolating.

There are some situations where a student's discipline record could be scrutinized by an admissions officer, but:

  • Students' discipline history is more interesting to admissions officers at the undergrad level than at the grad level, since undergrad behavior problems are more of a campus issue than grad student behavior problems.

  • Generally, academic and discipline records prior to 9th grade are washed away with the tide; generally, only high school records are reflected in the high school transcript sent to colleges (see, for example, https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-admissions/48282-suspension-in-middle-school.html).

What types of high school discipline records might be a concern for undergrad admissions?

According to an article in Education Week,

At a typical high school, a minor offense might result in you being reprimanded by a teacher or told to sit out in the hallway. Repeated minor offenses, or a slightly more severe offense, might result in a detention or an on-campus or “in-school” suspension.

If you get in trouble and you receive one of these punishments, it’s generally not something that you’ll need to report to colleges. However, if your offense merits more serious consequences, it’s a different story. This might include off-campus suspension, expulsion, or the involvement of law enforcement. If one of these has happened to you, you’ll need to report that on your [undergraduate] college applications.

College Confidential interviewed undergraduate admissions officers for an article about the effect of high school suspensions on college admissions. The take-home messages I took from this article:

  • If an applicant believes a particular incident will be disclosed as part of an educational application, a separate statement of explanation can be appended to the application.

  • As the article's introduction states, "There is life after screw-ups, even for elite-college aspirants, but [...] honesty about an infraction--and the lessons learned from it--is always the best policy."

  • As one of the admissions officers interviewed said, "Colleges understand that students are people (just like admission officers), capable of making mistakes or bad judgments."

In a 2016 study, the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA), a nonprofit organization in New York State, found (see summary, full report):

  • 73% of colleges and universities surveyed request the high school disciplinary record;

  • 89% of those who request it, use it in their decision making;

  • 50% of high schools surveyed disclose disciplinary information to colleges in at least some cases;

  • 63% of high schools surveyed don't have written policies guiding them in disclosure decisions.

(Note for undergraduate applicants who might be reading this post: Under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents of minors, and adult students, have the right to inspect their educational records. One can informally or formally attempt to get certain records expunged. Also, the CCA published a helpful guide in 2013 for handling disclosure of criminal records when applying for college.)

Bottom line:

Administrators at educational institutions are aware that young people's brains are immature, and they know that if they tried to restrict admission to people who have never gotten in any kind of trouble for anything, campuses would be sparsely populated.


Any legal system has the concepts of prescription, meaning that, depending on their gravity, the crimes are not prosecuted anymore after a specific duration. Otherwise police will still spent resources trying to find who parked illegally 5 years ago. Obviously, important crimes never prescribe, or their prescription period is long enough, while parking violations may be left unpunished if not observed in time.

Think of your probably 15 year old "transgression" as prescribed and move on. It has nothing to do with your character as of today. At that time, you probably observed other colleagues cheating and you tried to imitate them.

I also find the question terribly odd. Why would anybody write there "yes, I did" since the grad school does not have the means to verify. Even if they would, and they would uncover any real dishonest behavior from the applicants, they will be disqualified anyway, no matter their choice on the form.


Depending on context, yes, I think you could.

If it's a box to tick on a form, I'd leave it as 'no'. They're not interested in what you did as a child, it's not relevant, and there's no opportunity to explain yourself. However, if asked in person, I'd be inclined to tell them. No-one is going to hold something you did when you were eight against you and telling them about it gives the impression of scrupulous honesty on your part and builds trust between you and the interviewer.

  • 55
    Telling this to the interviewer would give the impression of someone completely disconnected from reality. There is a line between "scrupulous honesty" and "believing that cheating in primary school is relevant in any way to graduate admissions".
    – user9646
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:17
  • 14
    +1, I am less inclined to believe somebody who claims that they never cheated than somebody who states that they only ever cheated once at the age of eight (assuming that both statements are given with equal believability).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:17
  • 14
    @NajibIdrissi: It depends on the tone. Such a statement can (and has to) be delivered with conveying the knowledge that it’s not actually relevant to the question but without mocking the interviewer.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:21
  • 10
    @NajibIdrissi: And if OP is asked what country they come from, they can also say that when young they played the role of a French person in a school play? – That’s not even remotely comparable. — at best that's just wasting everyone's time – The time spent to say “only once, when I was eight” instead of just saying “no” is negligible. Remember that such an interview usually serves to get to know the person, not to replace a questionnaire.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 13:42
  • 10
    @NajibIdrissi I would assume that anyone with a passing hint of wit is perfectly capable of communicating both that they cheated on an test at eight, and that they're aware that this is hardly relevant. It is more humorous anecdote than deep revelation. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 14:49

Clearly, the answer is a no.

I hope this doesn't sound too harsh, but a graduate admission committee would probably be more surprised that you felt the need to ask this question on a public forum instead of reasoning it out yourself. It shows a lack of understanding of conventional social norms.

What's next? Asking if it is necessary to ask permission to pee during someone else's presentation?

  • 4
    If someone has a question that we might find a "stupid" question, how is it helpful to chide him for asking? The person is already suffering with self-doubt, let's not make it worse. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 17:08

No. Reasons:

  1. Most of the people don't even remember things that they did or happened to them at that age. So it is quite extraordinarily that you remember this. Some people have extremely good memory (I am one of them, unfortunately, so I can recall details of some things from decades ago). So, average person would probably not have an issue like this, because simply they would not think about this. It's something I learned during my life, it was sometimes difficult to accept that I was the only one holding a grudge, for example. So, the "I don't remember" is not only a good excuse, for many people it would be a fact!
  2. People change. There are reasons why there is different set of laws that apply to juveniles even when serious criminal acts are involved. This is also the reason, why court records of juvenile offenders are sealed or destroyed. The issue of you cheating at 8 years of age is immaterial for your admission, however you think of it. If it is immaterial whether you robbed a bank or seriously wounded a classmate, why would be cheating in 3rd grade be an issue? Be serious.

  3. You were a child at the time. Not only that juveniles are subject to different rules, children are in most jurisdictions exempt from any criminal punishment for all but the most serious crimes (e.g. murder, and even that for the purpose that they can be mentally evaluated in a correctional facility). The fact that you stole a bubble-gum from a store when you were five does not count either, just to be blunt & clear.

  4. You really are overthinking this. Perhaps, just like me, you are cursed with detailed memory. Get used to forget such things, life will become much more pleasant.


You probably should. If it bothers you, you should tell them. Our silly childhood embarrassments are a sign of deeper psychological injury that we cannot forget. If you want to tell them about it, that means you decided it's time to grow up from childhood and leave the past behind

  • 45
    A graduate admissions application is not the place to be seeking psychological closure. (And academia.stackexchange is not the place to be diagnosing psychological problems.)
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 12:27
  • Your conscience is working. Just confess to a respectable person in earnest, and next on forget it.
    – Narasimham
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 12:51
  • 1
    I would absolutely recommend the OP do something to address this issue, as it seems to be bothering them more than it should. But I would think an academic adviser or another peer would be better than the board of admissions, since it's not their job to validate or invalidate the way OP feels about it.
    – thanby
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 14:15
  • Deep psychological currents cannot be analysed by "academic" and "right" approach. It is not about rationality, the feelings are always absurd and incomprehensible to logic but always have meaning. If the person feels he should do it, do it. It is not a closure, please don't dramatise, just some silly wish that has to be fulfilled.
    – Alatoo
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 4:02
  • "(And academia.stackexchange is not the place to be diagnosing psychological problems.)" - If it helps the person feel more confident during the admission process, why not?
    – Alatoo
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 4:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .