I was suspended for 1 year from my university for copying an assignment from an online source. There were several extenuating circumstances but I won't go into them as they are irrelevant, I did cheat and I do deserve the punishment I was given - that is not the question.

After I found out my sentence, I found it very hard to attend classes relating to that department, or to look professors or my deans and advisors in the face and carry out conversations with them. The professor who's class I cheated in is one I was hoping to talk to as she is in the same area that I hope to go into one day and I really enjoyed her class, teaching methods, and enthusiasm for the subject. I also am extremely saddened by the fact that since I'm a fourth year, this means all my peers will be graduating and will have left by the time I come back and I'm finding it hard to cope with the thought of being without them for the rest of my undergraduate career.

My question is how do I cope with the stress and shame I am feeling and how do I get over that so that I can return to the academic environment in 1 year? Can I ever approach that professor again, or should I avoid her? I'm asking this here because I'd like the opinions of those who are on the other side of this.

  • 17
    Many good answers already, but regarding stress, shame, sadness, and so on, please consider talking to the university's counseling services.
    – Kallus
    May 15, 2014 at 12:56
  • I don't understand this "suspend a student" concept. What were you supposed to do in that year? Busing tables, herding sheep in the mountains?
    – Karl
    Dec 20, 2015 at 16:20

9 Answers 9


The university suspended you, which is a signal that it is still willing to have you as a student after serving your suspension. (If it wasn't, you'd have been expelled.) Therefore, upon your return, this professor (and every other professor) has the same professional obligations towards you that she would to any other student: to accept you in her classes, to treat you with courtesy and respect, to help you learn the material, to grade you fairly based on your work and the standards of the course. It is possible that your assignments may face extra scrutiny for plagiarism, but hopefully that is irrelevant as you're not going to do it again.

It's possible that relations may be strained between you, but I think this may be more on your side than hers. Speaking for myself, I certainly find it disappointing when a student cheats, but it's not as if I'm going to declare a personal vendetta against them and seethe with fury every time I pass them in the hall. That would be unprofessional, and not worth the emotional energy anyway. We go through the disciplinary process, I hope that they learn their lesson, and it's back to business as usual. If they are able to turn things around and show genuine interest in and dedication to their studies, for me that's ultimately uplifting.

So if you want to take her class at a later date, by all means do so. You might find it helpful to talk with her first: express your regret over the incident, as well as your continued interest in your subject and in completing your degree. I think it's very likely this will help clear the air for both of you. It would be wise for you to be extra diligent about quotations, citing sources, etc, and to consult your professor if you have the slightest question about any such issues.

Maybe she won't invite you to dinner, and she probably won't be the best person to write you a letter of recommendation. (Even if you get to be on better terms, which I hope you will, she might still feel it's her duty to mention the cheating incident in any letter she writes, which is probably not good for you.) But I don't see any reason you can't have the same basic educational experience as any other student.

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    This. Facing a professor after copying an assignment is awkward. But on the grand scale of things, it's much less awkward and more forgivable than, say, making unwanted sexual advances on a teacher, falsifying research results and publishing them with your advisor's name on them, or stealing expensive equipment from the lab.
    – ff524
    May 14, 2014 at 23:43
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    @ff524: Now, that said, at least at an average US university, a year suspension would be a very severe punishment for simple plagiarism. (More common would be something like a bad grade in the class and probation.) So this makes me wonder if there were previous incidents or other aggravating circumstances that the asker hasn't mentioned. That wouldn't change the overall theme of my answer, but it would muddy the waters somewhat. May 15, 2014 at 0:00

Adjunct faculty/instructor point of view here. My recommendation to you: replace your "shame" with work and achievement you can be proud of!

Put that time you aren't spending with your already-graduated friends to academic use. Attend all your classes (unless you're contagious). Be on time with your attendance and assignments. Pay attention and ask questions. Go to your professors'/instructors' office hours even if you are sure you know what's going on in class -- especially those professors aware of the suspension. Maybe bring along an assignment you're working on to confirm you're on the right track -- and conveniently prove that it's really you who is doing it.

As you're a fourth-year student, you should occasionally (or often) be able to exceed the requirements for an assignment. Just don't make it harder to grade your work... an extra citation or three (that you actually understand and use) in a research paper; really good comments in your computer code should be fine. Even just emailed questions can go a long way to demonstrate your engagement and effort. (There are bad questions: "What is the answer to #7" is probably an example of a bad question.)

I agree with other posters (especially Nate) who say that the professors/instructors will mostly forgive your mistake. Expect that your work will be looked at more carefully, at least for a while.

There are few things I find more annoying than students "sharing" work. I can't let it slide morally and it wastes a lot of my time making sure my suspicion is correct before I more forward with it. So, I don't want to read your letter about the past; that's just more wasted time. Until I see different behavior, it's just more B.S. (not meaning Bachelor's of Science) that was quite possibly written by a helicopter parent and shows more effort that was put into the assignment that caused the problem anyway. Actions speak louder than words.

In the end, I don't remember who cheated; I do remember students who excelled in their work. (Edit: Or at least, I try to; I'm actually pretty bad with names and faces :-( )


To err is human. There is no need to condemn yourself. I am glad you understood your mistake and I am sure that you learnt the lesson. I think that you can just directly talk to the professor(and the advisor) explaining that you regret and you understood your mistake (of course this method strongly depends on your professor's personality). Just make the situation clear and leave it behind because what hapened, happened. Act. Concentrate on the future and direct all your energy to prove that you are strong and wise. I am sure the professor will understand and encourage you (they are all wise and mature people and they understand that bad things happen and people might need another chance). Concerning the peers, if you have some friends in your class, this is a good test for them because friends should support you in hardships. If they are just classmates, then don't warry, you will have good classmates again. p.s. Just look at this as a life test you have to overcome. Don't cheat, deal with it.


I am assuming that you've been sent down this year.

To expand a bit on Paul Garrett's comment to aeismail's answer, you should write a letter to the professor. This letter should be contrite, apologetic, and demonstrate that you've learned your lesson. You might discuss how you plan to remedy what caused the problem and how you would handle it differently during your year off.

This contradicts the previous sentence but: Do NOT even refer to the 'extenuating' circumstances. Whatever it was, you should have raised that with the professor or the department before the cheating took place. But you've learned that now, right?

You should write similar letters to the chairman/head of the department (don't send the same letter) and your advisor with the same information. Discuss how you want to start fresh next year and have a stellar year.

Think about how they've been affected as well. They had to deal with a distasteful situation, punish a (hopefully!) promising student, and so on.

For a non-Academia example that might be enlightening, if you read science fiction at all, check out Miles Vorkosigan's apology (via a letter) in Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign.

  • 4
    I don't think it's good advice to send letters to all these people. The case has been ruled, OP should simply move on, go to class, and be a honest student from now on.
    – Cape Code
    May 15, 2014 at 11:26
  • 3
    "Do NOT even refer to the 'extenuating' circumstances." Agreed! It would sound like you didn't learn your lesson and were trying to weasel out of your punishment. Whether it's a good idea to write letters of apology, which could reopen old wounds, is debatable. If there's anyone you didn't get a chance to apologize to the first time around, you could consider it; otherwise just move on.
    – Phil Perry
    May 15, 2014 at 14:53

Unless the professor is aware of and condones whatever extenuating circumstances led you to cheat in her course, I think that your misconduct has "cut off" that bridge for you. Someone whose class you've cheated in is likely not going to be willing to help you out in any meaningful way—at least not without a sincere attempt at contrition. (Even then, it may be a case of "forgive, but never forget.")

  • 2
    Seconding: meaningful demonstration of contrition is an absolute prerequisite... to even begin to regain trust. Keyword: "trust". Many of us make mistakes, and have to re-establish trust. This is a known, and problemmatical, procedure... but sadly-often necessary. Better to avoid the problem in the first place... , but mature people know that good people can do dumb/bad things... May 14, 2014 at 22:22
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    I strongly disagree. If a student cheats in my class, I'll be all for punishment. But if afterwards the student wants to work on regaining trust, I won't hold a grudge. May 15, 2014 at 12:19
  • I also disagree. For me it was far worse when one of my students had clearly copied part of his assignment (that wasn't even for credit!) and wouldn't admit to it. If the student admits to doing something wrong and is sorry about it, I would definitely be just as much prepared to help them as any other student.
    – Tara B
    May 17, 2014 at 9:18

I apologize for sounding a bit non-academic.

You need to forgive yourself, and realize you have become a different person because of this incident. Until you do this for yourself, you cannot expect anyone else to do it for you. People make mistakes. Learn, and move on. You can still make a difference tomorrow - unless you dwell on yesterday.

The Catholic church recognizes that people can turn away from past mistakes and start afresh in what they call "the sacrament of reconciliation". This requires that you a) be sorry (contrition), b) say you are sorry (confession), and c) make up for it (satisfaction). There is simplicity and wisdom in that. Even if you are not religious, it's worth contemplating.

Make peace with yourself. Until you do, you cannot return, even if the University lets you.

As an aside - a year away from your friends is a really big punishment; it can also provide an opportunity. Do make the most of it. If you can't find a job, do some volunteering; maybe join an international aid organization, and go abroad to help people less fortunate than you. Turn this episode into something constructive - so that when you look back on the year, you realize you turned something bad into something good. That will help with the healing.

  • 2
    A minor comment on requirement (a) for reconciliation, "feel sorry": The word "feel" may not be optimal here, because it sounds as if an emotion is central. What is really important is rather a conscious act of the will, resolving to avoid future sin. In other words, being sorry is more important than feeling sorry. May 16, 2014 at 16:00
  • @andreasblass - you are right that was not an optimal choice of words. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – Floris
    May 16, 2014 at 20:01

Show genuine remorse over your mistake, sure, but rather than feeling ashamed of being suspended for a year, be proud of yourself for going back after said year and not giving up. A lot of people would use this situation as an excuse (not a reason, it's an excuse) to not return. The fact that you're asking how to deal with the future shame means that you're not even considering the alternative; you're going back. That takes strength, and you should be proud.


Years ago I took a final exam for a student who I was tutoring (we became friends during our tutoring sessions.). I hid in the bathroom; he snuck the exam out to me; I completed it and he turned it in. It was a Calculus test.

He was caught and suspended for a semester. I personally went in to the university to explain our actions, explain why I did it and to lend my support for him and to ask them for lenient punishment on him. The school administrators were appreciative of this and I think it was reflected.

In any case, he was out for the semester. Then, he went back again, finished school, and went on to grad school and his career. All said and done, very little if any harm done.

Life goes on. Sometimes people cheat, sometimes they plagiarize, we all do it to some extent in our lives, not a huge deal as far as I'm concerned if you don't do it often and you learn something about yourself in the process.

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    This is a "me too", not an answer to the question. May 15, 2014 at 17:09
  • Sure it's an answer. It's a formula for moving past the shame: life goes on, it's not a big deal. May 15, 2014 at 17:49
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    Were you affiliated with the University? Were you also punished? May 16, 2014 at 2:07

It would probably help to reduce your shame if you made a simple apology to those who you feel you owe one. Just say that you are sorry for what happened that year and that you are eager to continue your studies and finish for real this time.

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