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I'm currently enrolled in a Master's coursework program in Australia and I've just completed my first semester. I've been looking into going to law school in Australia after I'm done. I submitted my law school application and I got accepted but here's where I encountered my current problem.

I was reading over my master's application and in the fine print, it asks me to declare that I have not been excluded or subject to disciplinary action at the university level. I missed this when I was applying and that's my fault. See, I plagiarized and was found guilty during the first semester of my Canadian undergraduate degree. I plead guilty and took the penalties, which included a reduction in my final grade. There is no notation on my transcript. I never plagiarized again and felt extremely ashamed for what I had done. Now that I have become aware of this error in my master's application, I'm wondering how I tell my university about it. I do not want to hide it and I want to make them aware of the issue. Who should I contact at my university?

Also, in my law school application, it asked if I had been excluded or suspended from a course or asked to show why my enrollment should not be suspended/terminated. While there are no questions about plagiarism, how should I disclose this issue to the law school?

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    For 99% of the people I know, it is a no-brainer. Don't say a thing. But, I think if you take the advise, you'll feel bad about it. So I have a different advise. Go into politics and become a president. We need people like you there.
    – Magicsowon
    Nov 14 '21 at 16:01
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    @Magicsowon, hmmm. People who cheat? People who cheat and feel bad about it? People who cheat and feel bad, but hide it anyway? What sort of people do we need?
    – Buffy
    Nov 15 '21 at 15:55
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    @Buffy Read the text of the question. OP's moral compass seems fine. Yes, she cheated once, she learned from it, and won't do it again. Can you say the same about 99% of the people you know?
    – Magicsowon
    Nov 15 '21 at 18:44
  • There's nothing beneficial in this action. Nov 16 '21 at 15:48
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Hard questions. I can't advise you, but have several thoughts that may help.

Starting with the second question. If your reading of the law school application question is correct, you have nothing to report. You were not suspended or terminated for the cheating you did as a first semester college student.

For the first question I doubt that your current Master's program would care about this. If you have good relations with your advisor and can raise the question with them informally, try that. The academics I know would say (as you do) that the lesson learned was sufficient and that you need do nothing else.

Good luck.

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  • This was a law school application. I would hope and expect that law school and the profession itself has high standards about personal honesty. I would also expect that any transgressions, if found out, would be grounds for dismissal. Or am I just hopelessly naive?
    – Buffy
    Nov 15 '21 at 15:58
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    @Buffy this is a law school application. If any school is going to get "ask exactly the questions they want to know the answer to" right, it's going to be a law school. If they did not ask about that specific thing, then they did not ask about that specific thing.
    – Ben Barden
    Nov 16 '21 at 14:57
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First, the easy question

Also, in my law school application, it asked if I had been excluded or suspended from a course or asked to show why my enrollment should not be suspended/terminated.

You don't need to mention it on your law school application as it doesn't ask about it.

Now how to handle the other question

I was reading over my master's application and in the fine print, it asks me to declare that I have not been excluded or subject to disciplinary action at the university level.

And here you made a mistake. I'm going to assume there was no "Explain any disciplinary action" box you missed and it was an honest mistake.

You've got 3 options

Say Nothing

If your current school finds out there will likely be another hearing with more consequences. Your previous school didn't see the infraction as serious enough to put a letter in your file. We don't know how serious the allegations were.

Ask your advisor for advice

If you have a good relationship with your advisor, ask them for advice. Be sure to give them a detailed explanation of what happened. They'll be the best judge of how serious the issue was instead of people on the internet.

Tell the university

You could tell the university in a written letter. I'm not sure how your university is structured so you'll have to do some legwork to determine where to send it (admissions might be a place to start).

I would lean towards getting your advisor's opinion, but you have far more details about this than we do. I also would not expect the university to "go easy on you" for being honest. You're in the best position to decide how serious your infraction was.

EDIT - re-read the application

I'd be a bit surprised if your university simply didn't accept anyone with any disciplinary action. There are students like yourself who learned from the experience and changed your behavior.

There are also students who may not be guilty. In my undergrad, there was a cheating scandal where ~10 students turned in the same code. One student was making an A, the rest were D level. It ended up in front of a disciplinary committee which determined they all had to retake the class (among other things).

The general consensus among the rest of the students was someone waited for the A student to take a bathroom break and leave the computer lab then copied his code. No one had any proof of this and the disciplinary committee didn't want to say "One of you has an A the rest have Ds, A guy gets a pass."

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  • +1 don't mention it to the law school. Don't go shooting yourself in the foot for no reason.
    – CSSTUDENT
    Nov 16 '21 at 10:51
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Contrary to some other answers here, I'd suggest that you bring it up, explain it, and say that it was done through simple carelessness, not intentional lying.

If you bring it up, I think you have a chance to recover from it. But if it is later discovered by others, I'd think the claim would be clear dishonesty, which for a prospective lawyer can be a serious issue. It would be much harder, if even possible, to recover from it in that case. Being expelled from law school makes the future pretty bleak if law is your career goal.

Note that I'm depending here on your words: "...or subject to disciplinary action at the university level". That seems to be clearly the case.

I doubt that for a graduate program other than law school the question wouldn't be asked and it would be assumed that the prior punishments are sufficient. But law school, I hope, has higher standards about personal integrity.

As to the how to approach it, a conversation with the chair of the admissions committee or even the dean of the law school would be appropriate. "I made a potentially serious error in my admissions materials and would like to set the record straight ..."

And, I suspect that if you had mentioned it originally, that it wouldn't necessarily have resulted in rejection, since you paid a penalty already. We've all made some errors in life. Hopefully they have helped us improve.

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If the master's application has an obligatory item where you have to declare any disciplinary action at the university level, they may not pay attention to such kind of cases you got in during your first semester. But they can interpret it as an attempt to hide the truth to make a better impression.

I suppose that you should clarify this moment - probably, it is not so important, but your consciousness will be clear. Contact the counseling service at your university - they will provide you with the right person to resolve this situation.

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Disciplinary proceedings are usually confidential. If there's no note on your transcript, there's no way for them to learn about it without breaching confidentiality. What happens in Canada stays in Canada.

If you're thinking about telling, definitely don't go in with the expectation that they'll go easier on you because you came to them first. That could happen, but don't rely on it, and I wouldn't base my decision on it. These things can be very bureaucratic and you might just be subjecting yourself to the same sanction you'd get if they found out about it themselves. Don't make the mistake of assuming that they'll be sympathetic.

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