I got caught cheating in a two-hour engineering exam consisting of 100 multiple choice questions which was done online through the moodle e-learning software. I feel like my life is almost over.

Having not studied well and having no time to study, I decided to cheat. I know there are no excuses for cheating. Before the exam I dug up research about moodle exams, and it turned out you can take the exam anywhere you want to as long as you have the quiz password. Taking advantage of this, I went up to my engineering library and asked a close friend who was taking the exam to send me the quiz password before he starts.

What I had prepared:

  • Calculator (was not allowed during the quiz).
  • Printed material (consisted of more than 200 pages).
  • Google search engine (on a laptop ready to help).
  • Whatsapp (to ask questions for a friend who took the quiz last year).

As I sat down, I did the first 50 questions, suddenly the quiz froze and moodle told me:

you are not allowed to take the exam from this location.

While I was leaving, one instructor responsible for the course (there are 5) came and found me. She accused me of cheating, took my mobile and made come with her to a huge office where two instructors searched all my mobile (took the name of my friend who gave me the password), and started talking to me, asking for all details of this crime. They confiscated my phone and looked at everything: Whatsapp conversations, all my emails, and images. The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me and kept it with her. It seems that the instructors are going to report me as well as my friend who sent me the password for the exam.

The university's Student Code Conduct says that cheating will result in one of the following: a Dean's Warning, Suspension, or Expulsion. If any of that happens, my future is over. A Dean's Warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension would be for at least two years, and coming back would require a lot of work. An expulsion will be definite.

I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can I fix this? How can I prevent the five instructors from reporting me? It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?

EDIT: Wow, it has been almost 3 years. I would like to update on how I dealt with the situation.

Lesson: It was obvious to never ever cheat under any circumstances, independent of whether you'd get caught or not.

Consequences: I received a Dean's Warning but the financial aid wasn't revoked. However, I couldn't stay in the department as engineering was not for me, and I was even ashamed to stay in the university.

What happened next: I transferred to an ABET-accredited Computer Science institution and I graduated with distinction in 2.5 years. It was extremely stressful as I took 6 major courses (18 credits) in one semester, but I had to do it.

Future plans: I'm going for an MSc in Computer Science in St. Andrews next year.

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    All the previous comments have been moved to a chat room. Please carry the discussions on there.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 17:53
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    This certainly does not excuse the cheating in any way, but am I the only one who thinks that a warrantless search on a cell phone by an educational institution is an autocratic, and quite possibly illegal tactic?
    – user8762
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 2:27
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    I loooooooooove it when people come back and tell us what happened! I guess you could make an argument that it makes the question even more useful, but I'm upvoting for the human satisfaction from knowing how the story turned out. And congrats to OP for overcoming this (yes, self-inflicted) setback!
    – msouth
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 15:30
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    The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me. Don't ever let anyone who is not police do that. I don't believe you give up personal property rights to such an extent just because you're on campus - maybe a lawyer could pitch in? What the instructor did could potentially get them into extremely hot water. If you were in a privileged position of having money for lawyers, that instructor might have been out of a job. You played them, and they played you - that was the lesson here. Now you know how it feels to be played. Know the game before you play - always the case. Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 22:37

19 Answers 19


I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can fix this? How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me. It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?

From the way you wrote this, it seems to me that in your current mindset, you have not yet learned the full lesson. I say this because the second sentence above seems to me still in the same mindset where you are trying to control and engineer a result to essentially beat the system and get something better than your own actions have generated. That is not full understanding of learning that that whole approach is not appropriate. You're treating the system like an adversary, acting in a victim mentality, and trying to manipulate your way out of it. You have some lessons to learn about humility, honesty, surrender, and building integrity from the ground up. I would suggest accepting those.

I would suggest it may help for you to consider you may also be wrong-minded when you think things like:

If any of those happen, my future is over. A dean's warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension, will be at least for two years and coming back requires a lot of work. An expulsion, will be definite.

The "my future is over" fear is what led you to cheat in the first place. As your professor kindly observed, you didn't need to cheat in the first place, and it got you into far worse trouble than doing your best would have. Indeed, I think your future looks darker if you don't take full responsibility now. I would be more optimistic about your future if you lose your financial aid and have to leave that university, but actually learn your lesson and continue at some other institution.

Your future will depend on your mindset, your integrity, and how you do your chosen field of work (including how you feel about yourself and how you relate to your work). These things are built upon each other like the bedrock, foundation, and upper levels of a building. If your mindset is full of panic, it will undermine your integrity. If your integrity is unsound, it will undermine your work. Seriously. This is practical and not empty moralizing.

So, realize that if you really want to be an engineer, you can do this, even if you need to go to another university. Even if it takes another 2 or even 4 years. Then, restore your integrity by being completely honest about everything and taking full responsibility for everything you caused and continue to cause. Don't try to cover anything up, make anything sound good, look good, nor avoid looking bad. You will feel a lot better about it all when you let go of resisting and admit everything. Your instructors know all about it, and will notice any attempt to make this better for yourself, so even if you were going to cling to being a desperate manipulative person, it would be best to surrender and fully admit everything, and be as honest as possible in everything you do. If you can really learn these lessons, then it may actually make sense to give you some leniency. If you're still resisting, then it wouldn't be doing anyone any favors in the long run, to do anything less than suspend you.

The good news is, this lesson is FAR more important than the engineering content you were studying.

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    +1 This is a wonderful answer and hits on the bigger picture for the OP. The first paragraph is spot on.
    – Jason C
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 5:10
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    I was wondering whether anyone would mention the fact that the instructor didn't think that he/she needed to cheat to pass (though it might not be an exact quote)
    – chipbuster
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 16:27
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    I disagree with this answer. He should simply get a zero and warning (unless this is repeated). From an outcomes standpoint, a productivity standpoint, forcing a student to move to another university and spend 2-4 years redoing all courses, or spending tens of thousands of dollars redundantly is economic waste. Is, not seems to be. If he were employed, he probably wouldn't be fired. He would, in most cases, be warned. How many times he could do this would depend on how otherwise valuable an employee he is. If he is a poor researcher, fire him; otherwise warn him. Anything else is unreasonable.
    – user15282
    Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 16:08
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    The OP does not take responsibility for cheating. They just want to avoid the penalties of having been caught. I would hope that they are reported - I would not want to hire them. Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 7:42
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    @user15282 I disagree with you completely. He is seeking to be an engineer. Dishonest actions and then further trying to cover them up kills people in engineering. You would almost certainly be dismissed immediately from any serious engineering company for such actions in a job and, in some situations, you could also face criminal prosecution.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 19:39

First, in light your question title, let me offer some encouraging words. Your life is not over. Cheating is an academic transgression; unless your situation is very unusual, you have not committed a crime. Take a breath, realize that this is a problem that you need to address as an adult, and part of that means being sober and reasonable.

Of course this is serious, and will likely have severe consequences regarding your future as an engineering student--but it is not the end of the world. It is essential for your own sake that you learn from this experience. Understanding why this was a poor choice is probably more important than your engineering degree.

You should not try to fix this. The fact is, your instructors are there to help you, and they are still trying to help you. They are understandably frustrated and disappointed by this situation.

You should be honest to yourself about the choices you made. This could happen to anyone; it doesn't happen to people who think about and understand the consequences. More specifically, my advice to you is:

  • apologize to your friend for coercing him into helping you cheat
  • understand that your cheating was not justified in any way; do not offer any excuses
  • admit everything and be as honest as you can with your instructor

Of course, that advice is predicated on you understanding that your cheating was a poor choice, and not merely unfortunate because you got caught. It's not clear from your question if you've made this distinction.

In the stereotypical view of cheating, you struggle because you aren't willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and you misrepresent your abilities through cheating on an exam, quiz, etc. It is easy to see this is dishonest; it's a form of lying.

Say that we take you at your word and that your description of the course as an "unreasonable amount of work" is completely true, accurate, and without embellishment. Let us further suppose that cheating is the only way that a qualified, hard-working student could earn a passing grade in this course. Cheating in this instance is not better, it is even more dishonest.

Here, by cheating and earning a passing grade, you misrepresent the abilities of the honest students in the class, and interfere with the instructor's ability to assess learning and make necessary changes to the course.

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    Well I don't really understand why this is getting upvoted. His life as he was seeing it is getting stripped from him for nothing, he's asking for a solution that has a reasonable chance of working and your answer is "Don't worry it's for your own good that you won't become an engineer my poor little kid *hug*"... wth ?
    – Wicelo
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:20
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    @Wicelo I included the first paragraph because the original title included the phrase "my life is almost over." I think any remark like this should be taken seriously. I would summarize my response as: Don't do anything rash <fullstop> Be honest and don't make excuses, as anything else will make your situation worse.
    – dionys
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:37
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    Personally, I believe the first paragraph is a key point, and I upvoted (at least partially) because of it. Yes, the OP made a mistake that will have serious consequences. But that does not mean that their life is almost over. It does mean that their life may not be what they had originally anticipated. @Wicelo Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:50
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    @Wicelo SRSLY? The kid deliberately worked out a scheme to cheat and you think he shouldn't get booted? Are you perhaps not aware there's a reason for exams in the first place: to separate the competent from the not-capable? If the course was that hard, he should have dropped it in the first place and taken some lower-level courses prior to retaking. Sheesh. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:54
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    @Wicelo the point is that it is not 'for nothing'. If you cheat in real life the consequences are usually that you'll end up in jail. It doesn't really sound like he has learnt that cheating was bad but that getting caught was bad.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:05

To the comments: The OP knows he cheated - he's asking what he can do to improve his situation. Clearly, there are good and bad ways to deal with it.

I haven't been on an AD board myself, but I have caught cheaters. From my experience, the best thing you can do is the following:

  1. Admit everything.

  2. Apologize. Make it clear that you understand how and why cheating is wrong.

  3. Do not under any circumstances give excuses for your cheating or blame others for it - as you do in this question. You chose to cheat, no one put a gun to your head.

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    To add to this I would explain the financial aid situation so that the board can carefully apply penalties so that there are not any knock on effects. Writing someone a warning that gets financial aid withdrawn is effectively expelling them and probably not the intention.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 20:21
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    @StrongBad and just why shouldn't a cheater be expelled, or at least suspended for a year? I fail to see the upside of letting this slide. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:56
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    @CarlWitthoft it seems unfair if the effective penalty depends on if you need financial aid or not.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 15:45
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    @StrongBad Whoever provides the financial assistance has determined specific criteria to decide who should receive it, with presumably many more applicants than they are able to provide assistance to. To not give a Dean's warning to the OP, when the protocol says that he should definitely get one, is to deceive the provider, and to deprive other applicants.
    – jwg
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 8:55
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    @jwg I think the point is that the board would now have full knowledge of the penalties they're applying. If they had a discussion that went "we want to penalize him, but certainly not expel him!" they might want to know that (I have no idea if such a conversation is likely to take place). But if they do want to expel him, financial aid probably won't change that. EDIT: it also seems unlikely that the board being annoyed by a note about OP's financial situation will make things substantially worse for him than they already are.
    – Prime
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 1:17

What you did was actually pretty severe as far as cheating goes. Sometimes cheating could be explained by a brief moment of weakness. For example, suppose you take an exam and discover that it is far more difficult than you expected, so you make an impulsive decision to take a look at your neighbor's answers. That's still wrong and deserving of punishment, but it could at least be viewed as a foolish choice brought on by panic, which could make it easier to forgive. On the other hand, you planned and carefully prepared in advance to cheat effectively, and you even recruited a friend (who is apparently not so honest himself but might not have done anything wrong if you hadn't brought him into your plan). It's pretty much the worst case scenario for cheating.

I don't think there's anything you can do to keep from being reported. There may not even be much you can do to affect the punishment. However, what I hope for from students in cases like this is genuine introspection.

By this I mean going beyond a superficial account of rules and motivations. There are a lot of standard things you can say: your fear of punishment will keep you from cheating again, you recognize that you were cheating yourself out of real learning, you understand how unfair your actions were to your honest classmates, etc. These should all be true, but they are fundamentally unsophisticated. Essentially, they are what society tells eight-year-olds who are having trouble behaving. It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence when someone announces "Oh, now I finally understand what my elementary school teacher always told me."

Instead, I hope a crisis like this will provoke some soul searching, not just repeating standard answers. What sort of person are you? Could your family or colleagues rely on you, or will you someday pull the rug out from under them when your long-term dishonesty is uncovered? Could a stranger rely on you? Are you the sort of person who acts with honor even when he could get away with cheating, or the sort who always puts himself first? Who are you, and who do you want to be?

The point is that many cheaters have elaborate rationalizations and excuses (I see some tendency in that direction in your question). They convince themselves that they aren't actually dishonest people, just trapped in difficult or unique situations. When caught, they try to repair their self-image with as few changes as possible: they learned what not to do in this situation, or they view it as a one-time mistake unconnected with the rest of their life. When I see someone doing this, I worry that they are on a dangerous path in which they will blindly follow the same old habits and patterns in other cases. I'm confident that you have the potential to be an honest and trustworthy person, but what you did in this class is not a good start in that direction.

I don't want to coach you on what to say or how to say it. It's a deeply personal matter, and in any case I don't want to help you pretend you've had a deeper learning experience than you actually have. However, I'd really recommend thinking about the big picture of your life, not just this one incident. It may help to discuss it with a relative, mentor, religious leader, etc. In the end, you need to convince the university that you've learned more than just a cost/benefit analysis of cheating, so that they have faith that you could benefit from a second chance. I don't think you will, or should, escape punishment, but it's in your own interests to try to learn and grow as much as you can from this experience, and it can't hurt your prospects if the administration sees that you are doing so.

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    "It's pretty much the worst case scenario for cheating." Only thing worse I can think of is stealing the questions and/or answers before the exam starts. This would make it a criminal offence. I fully agree with your answer.
    – Mast
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:01

You were caught in flagrante delicto. You were accessing the exam with illicit material in an unapproved location and were caught while the exam was in progress.

Reading what you have provided, I believe there is essentially nothing you can do to prevent the instructors from reporting you. Given the extent of your infraction of the code—after all, this was an intentional violation, not an accident like forgetting a citation in a paper—it's hard to see how they can avoid reporting this. Think about it this way: if you do not get reported, who can be reported?

Letting you off the hook also sends the wrong message to you and to your fellow students about the importance and strictness of the honor code.

I'm afraid you will have to live with the consequences of your actions. (Was the benefit from cheating really worth the consequences of possibly being caught?)

  • +1 Given the behavior of the OP, why even have exams. Having read the OP it may affect the way that I interview college students: looking for this flagrant cheating attitude will not be easy though.. Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 8:26
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    Exams are hardly realistic: When I worked in industry and told to solve a problem, they didn't say "Sit by yourself, talk to no one, do not make use of material of a related nature"
    – jim
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 21:46
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    @jim: I wholeheartedly agree with your view of examinations' lack of realism. Unfortunately, we as educators need means of assessing individual learning. How do we honestly know who's done the work in a group without direct observation? And how do we do this realistically for a class of 50 or 100 students?
    – aeismail
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 2:58
  • @aeismail Yes, of course there is some need to assess individual learning, and suppose the issue is the best way to do this.
    – jim
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 8:53

One normal engineering course at my university had an unreasonable amount of work: each week we would have like 5 quizzes (1 labview quiz, 2 class quizzes, 1 computer lab quiz, 1 graded report). The course merging with another 4 courses (Electric Circuits - Differential Equations - Statistics - Chemistry) caused a lot of pressure.

The material of the engineering course, was overwhelming, incredibly lengthy in unreasonable amount of studying required.

Outside of the question of cheating---and you are clearly in the wrong there---this suggests that you may not have mastered the material from the previous courses to the level expected of you.

Engineering school is hard, but it is not impossible.

If you come out of this with the option to continue your studies (either at your current institution or elsewhere) you might want to consider either or both of ...

  1. Going back and re-doing some of the preceding material until you are deeply conversant with it and able to handle the concepts and calculation needed fluidly and without much difficulty. Just being sufficiently prepared will reduce the load from the subsequent course.

  2. Recognizing that engineering is not for everyone and it might not be for you.

In any case, I'd like to remind you that the job you are studying toward is one where a mistake or a cut corner can have life-threatening consequences. Your instructors are right to take this very seriously and you should too. Think carefully about this. Do you want that kind of risk hovering over your work?

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    +1 for the bigger picture of engineering itself, something the OP does not demonstrably grasp.
    – user21984
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 6:27
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    An issue which I see frequently among students. In math, physics and likely engineering, other sciences and even liberal arts courses, the material builds on itself. Ultimately if a student receives a C in a course, the student is probably not fully prepared for the next course. This makes the next course in the sequence harder than it is supposed to be. A large portion of my tutoring is in fact developing a stronger foundation before the student can understand the current topic. I'm getting off topic. See chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/18175/…
    – nickalh
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 21:40
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    If the course is really so difficult, every student is in the same situation. Usually, the instructor will recognize this and curve the grades at the end. If it's particularly difficult for you, there is often other recourse, such as reaching out to the instructor/TAs/other students and even dropping the class. It's best to realize this before an exam and when you realize is often the difference between succeeding and failing. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 2:55
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    +1 For where a mistake or a cut corner can have life-threatening consequences.
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 4:05
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    +1 also for "life-threatening consequences". As a practicing engineer now, the idea of stamping a design I don't understand and having it fail is pretty terrifying. Go spend a little time on Google learning about engineering disasters - e.g. the Hyatt-Regency walkway collapse - and let it sink in what happens in the real world when an engineer "cheats". You're better off getting suspended now than going to jail later for "cheating" a.k.a. professional negligence. Harsh but true.
    – brichins
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 17:01

There are two issues here that I see. The first is the punishments seem to be designed such that a Dean's Warning is relatively light. Without section 5 which outlines the punishments that can accompany a Dean's Warning, one cannot be sure. I guess is if outside factors, such as financial aid, would greatly magnify the penalty, the committee who oversees these things might be wiling to work with someone who has been caught cheating. The second issue is that the event you describe are so egregious that the committee wouldn't try and move directly to suspension or expulsion. If the committee is trying to figure out how to suspend you, then asking for a lenient application of a Dean's Warning will not go over very well.

As with any case of academic misconduct, you need to find someone who is on your side and understands the system. A lawyer arguing from a legal perspective is generally not the best first approach. You should check with the student services office for help.

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    +1 for the last paragraph. Most institutions offer some sort of "public defender" service for students facing disciplinary action. I would encourage anyone in such a situation, regardless of guilt or innocence, to seek this sort of expert assistance. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 2:43
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    In particular, many U.S. schools have a "student advocate" in the student affairs office, who can give impartial advice and is familiar with the university's procedures. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 3:22
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    I missed this answer, but I commented on the OP in a comment thread above as follows: The school has a range of penalties that may be imposed for cheating; it is not necessarily the case that this instance merits the most draconian punishment. There may be dozens of cheating cases at the school. Cheating may be endemic in a particular professor's class but rare elsewhere. An attorney will make sure that all mitigating circumstances are heard. There is a greater chance that similar cases that merited lesser punishment will be considered. –
    – user26732
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 12:08

You can not prevent them from reporting you, and attempting to prevent the report would only reflect worse on you and your character. This is your opportunity to demonstrate humility and integrity.

Do not make excuses, do not lie. Own your mistake and be ready to say why it was wrong, and the impact to your instructors and to your classmates. Consider that engineers design, construct, certify and maintain critical infrastructure; they must be held to the highest standards, to protect human life, and why integrity matters. To illustrate, look back at Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who tried to prevent the Challenger disaster, and the engineering manager who was cowed into making a decision against his better judgement.

Expect disciplinary action. Whatever the disciplinary action, thank them for it, as it will be a valuable learning opportunity.

Be sincere, be gracious, and move forward. Begging,feeling sorry for yourself or attempting to shift blame will only make you look worse in the eyes of the school, in the eyes of your peers, and eventually in your own eyes.

You will get through this, even if it changes the trajectory of your career. And who knows? You might find your passion in something else other than engineering.

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    +1 for You might find your passion in something else other than engineering. I spent several years as a civil engineer who was gradually doing more and more software tools - I am now a full-time software developer, making a higher salary with less stress and fewer work hours. I've had a rough road (ha) getting there, but I enjoy where I'm at and my engineering training and experience continues to be valuable.
    – brichins
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 19:36

A long-term plan is something you need to think through.

It probably looks like this: -- maybe not exactly as that would be arrogant -- I've left out what to do about where to live, whether to stay and work in the local community or create a clean break, etc -- though obviously your personal lifestyle is going to be affected by what happened and how you handle it. Your life is not over. It is merely more difficult. Step up to the challenge.

  1. Accept that you deserve to be suspended or expelled. If you are instead given a second chance, great! or not. Aren't you burned out by this point? Most people would be. This incident also doesn't sound minor, at all.
  2. If you are lucky, your friend(s) who helped you cheat will get the Dean's warning level of punishment. I say "if you are lucky", because a normal person would feel absolutely awful, for a long time, for damaging their friends' reputation and career. Don't try to lobby for your friends.
  3. If you haven't already done so, tell your parents, and apologize to them or anyone else personally bankrolling your education.
  4. Get a job and pay your own bills -- assuming your financial aid, loans, work-study, and/or family pays your current bills. Your family, rich or poor, will see this as a sign of maturity. Now obviously the best jobs want degree holders and are concerned about grades and honesty. Don't apply for jobs like that, you'll wind up beating yourself up over and over about what you did every time they reject or worse, be tempted to lie and cover it up. Now the workplace is hardly angelic, there are obviously bad jobs working for dishonest people. Try to avoid those as well. It looks like you could do some computer freelance work. Actually marketing yourself and finding customers is harder than the programming part. Consider trying that for a while.
  5. While working for a living, hit the books and the free online course sites. There are good free online courses from top engineering schools: i.e. Caltech, MIT, Stanford, etc. Cut yourself some slack by not officially signing up - trying watching all the lectures and doing the readings. Then start doing some of the assignments. Answer forum questions or Stack Exchange questions about the material.
  6. As you gain demonstrated proficiency in the coursework you were once struggling at, build a portfolio. Like the computer program portfolio I see attached to your profile page. Stuff you are interested in and good at.
  7. By this point you should be good at something that wouldn't be obvious from your former transcripts. Find academic allies who can help you develop. Write profs of online classes where you think you are doing well. You can sometimes get a certificate, or a promise of letter of recommendation this way.
  8. Use the portfolio when writing your new university applications a few years from now. To get back into a university you should diversify the applications across schools. A few years and all these steps will make an application more acceptable. Though you may still need to address the earlier incident, by this point you will not only have an idea of what to write or say but can demonstrate your new-found passion and ability. By this point you should also have made at least one ally who can write a decent recommendation letter.

Good luck with this journey.

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    +1 and I really love this answer for its practicality and realistic preparation for not the worst but perhaps just second best life outcome. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 14:26
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    Good practical advice. To the final steps I would add: be prepared to honestly explain in new applications/interviews what happened when you were previously at college. I also think you should mention that this strategy has a low probability of success - most people who try to educate themselves to degree level while supporting themselves financially through full time work don't succeed.
    – jwg
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 11:01
  • @jwg It depends on the degree and institution. I used to teach a lot of night-school MBAs for Georgia State in Atlanta. The day school undergrad crowd had a diversity of ages. It was clear that many people were working and attending part time. When I taught in Asia it was entirely a different story, a conveyor belt of young minds with the occasional exchange student --- almost none of whom were employed, where aid and grants paid their way. The top tier in the USA has become so expensive that paying your own way through work is pretty laughable, but there are still plenty of state schools.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 11:12
  • @Paul Particularly like the last part of point number 5. Paying back by helping other people will do alot to help him rebuild his confidence and sense of worth. It helps me every day. +1
    – bobbym
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 19:18

I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can fix this? How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me.

I want to discuss why the university has such strict policies against cheating, and why this situation must be reported.

The first problem with cheating is that it degrades everyone's degree. When you start working for a company on graduation, your degree represents certain skills that you are assumed to have learned in getting that degree. If the company finds out you don't have these skills, in the future they will assume that anyone who graduates from your program might not have those skills. If cheating is taken lightly, then your degree becomes meaningless, because no-one will know what skill-set it actually represents.

This leads into my second point: getting an engineering degree sets you up to become a professional engineer, a position of great responsibility. I'm not exaggerating when I say that people's lives will be in your hands. If you misrepresent your skill-set, you will be put in situations where you don't have the knowledge to do the job properly. If you haven't learned integrity in your undergrad, when put in such a situation you may complete the project anyway (this is like cheating in the real world). If you do this, whatever system you're designing may fail, and this could get people killed. That is why integrity is of the utmost importance in engineering programs.

If you have truly learned your lesson, and you understand these two points, then you will understand that cheating was wrong not because you got caught, but because that type of behaviour ultimately puts people's lives at risk. But as others have said, your life is not over, and it is not too late to change. If you learn your lesson now, and carry yourself with integrity from this day forward, you will make a great engineer.

It is especially important that you show this integrity over the next few days. This means not trying to cover anything up. The instructors have to report you; if they don't, they are also committing an offence. If you have truly learned your lesson, and can demonstrate this, then hopefully your punishment will be lenient.

If you want to be an engineer because it fits into some life plan (it gives you status, money, whatever), I think you've got things all wrong. Be an engineer because you want to help people. If you don't end up being an engineer, that's fine; there are lots of other ways to help people, and I'm sure you'll find one that you really enjoy.


Your life is not over. I want you to obtain professional psychological counselling but I fear that you will think this is only another kind of punishment to be "fixed".

Your comment "How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me. It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say?" is massively irrational.

It is the job of the 5 instructors to report you. You are thinking you can ask them not to do their job, apparently in the same way you thought you did not need to do your job of understanding the course material for the examination.

It is not at all obvious that you should speak to the 5 instructors. Unless they have asked you for a formal response I think it would be very unwise to speak to them.

There is no ethical dilemma over whether people should do their jobs. Your dilemma is whether you have chosen a job (student of engineering) that is within your capacity. There are fundamental norms of human behaviour involved here that your family should have taught you to navigate. That they haven't is why I suggest counselling. A 2-year suspension sounds like an excellent option. If you become an engineer, people's lives will depend on your knowledge of the subject matter and your honesty to say "I do not know the answer to this question" when you do not know the answer to a question.

  • 6
    Speaking as somebody who has a bit of experience with the "psychological counselling" part: It is true that the OP made mistakes. It is also true that adopting a different perspective of the situation would be more constructive for him. But your tone is very counterproductive. Shaming and belittling him, and suggesting that he might be incapable of becoming an engineer because he showed bad judgement is not helping him develop better judgement, it's preventing it. If you want to help somebody to improve their behavior, the first thing to do is treat them with respect and understanding.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 18:17
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    @rumtscho It's important that people understand the consequences of their actions. Everything Scott said is true. I don't get the impression that he intended it to 'belittle' him, just that he wants him (or her as the case may be) to understand the very serious consequences of his actions and their motivations. It doesn't look like the OP has learned this lesson yet, judging from the diatribe on his profile that seems to be blaming the university rather than himself and from his profile picture, which consists of equations written on someone's hand.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 20:11
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    @rumtscho The fact of the matter is that the OP should feel shame and remorse for what he did and his question does not make it clear that he did, only that he was sorry he got caught and wanted to know how to make the consequences go away.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 20:14
  • @reirab I agree with your first sentence: the OP should understand the consequences. The top voted answers here are well suited for that. But you (and anybody else) cannot tell the OP what to feel: a feeling is a biochemical reaction, it either happens or doesn't, no matter what feeling somebody deems appropriate for a situation. Also, remorse is a consequence of guilt, not shame. And causing shame in somebody by telling him a variation of "you're a loser who'll never amount to anything" is cruel, and never has any positive consequences for the person told off.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 7:09
  • I don't think he was trying to say "you're a loser that will never amount to anything." Simply mentioning that someone should consider whether or not engineering is really for them is not saying they'll never amount to anything. Not everyone can be an engineer. There's nothing wrong with that. Also, he didn't say that that's definitely the case here, just that OP should consider the possibility.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 7:20

Actually I have a different take on this. There are also ethical rules that must be followed by the university just as there are ethical rules (aka laws) that must be followed by the police even if you commit a crime. I highly doubt that it is legal for them to detain you against your will, use intimidation tactics to steal your personal information from your phone, and confiscate your personal property without consent. I'm not condoning cheating but I also believe that both parties are required to use ethical conduct. The university faculty are people who are in positions of authority, and they should not be allowed to use their position to manipulate you into doing anything they want. Even if they suspect you of cheating. There are ethical ways of doing it. It's not just on the part of the student to maintain ethical conduct. In the future know your rights and know the laws. Police require warrants to take your personal property. Is it not the case that university faculty must also abide by the laws?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; all of the comments on this post have been moved to chat. If you would like to continue this discussion, please do so over there.
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 8:39
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    I agree with you in general on this answer, however it should be noted that the OP is in Lebanon, not in the West, so the laws are likely very different from what they would be in the U.S. or Europe. Certainly, confiscating a cell phone without permission would be a criminal offense in the U.S. I'm not sure whether that is the case in Lebanon or not, though.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 20:17

To elaborate on @Sverre's excellent response, take full responsibility for your actions. It seems you still have several things to learn. Although the consequences are potentially severe, you seem more concerned with the consequences than a genuine change of heart. The desire to not be reported is strong indication of this. Your friend is not innocent and chose to participate in collusion, in other contexts this is illegal. Also, a good professor will ask "Why did you cheat?" and not assume you have excuses with "What are your excuses?"
Engineering courses are known to be quite difficult. Despite the temptation to cheat, follow through with a lifetime of being honest. Finally, many even most students I have worked with have poor study skills. Since 50% of learning is forgotten with 24 hours, review frequently. Get in the habit of summarizing methods, notes, etc. Combined with other study skills, the course load should become not easy but bearable thereby reducing the temptation to cheat.


Do not make excuses.

I believe this is the only important thing in this situation. Any student can muddle through phrases like "this course was too much work," "my life is over," etc., as you are right now.

Engineering programs usually receive large funding support from corporations that plan to hire their students. They accordingly act like such corporations, so perhaps it's good to think of how this would look in a corporation. Say you're a journalist who plagiarized, a software engineer who downloaded source code on a USB stick and lost it, a mechanic who mucked up the brake line in a car, etc... what happens? you get fired!

  • "But my wife and kids."
  • "But it was an accident I promise not to do it again."

Et cetera, will fall on deaf ears. Your "excuses" will also fall on deaf ears.

I earnestly do think that your punishment will be somewhere above "light" and below "career-ending." The best thing you can do here, in my opinion, is act professionally. That means understand the above points. Understand that you know you are in a bad situation and nothing you can do will change their view of that. That will be the platform from which they may feel they are doing business with a worthy professional instead of a whiny student who doesn't understand his life "being over" has little to do with "the company's bottom line". Be someone they can do business with.

Next, of course your life isn't over! There are way too few engineers for corporations not to hire people who have never made mistakes. Even real mistakes with consequences. This is what people sometimes derisively call an "adult" or "real world" lesson but the platitudes are true that character and perspective are important in getting through them. I'm not going to call this a rosy mistake; it is a real one with consequences. Some corporations - maybe including your dream one - may see this as egregious and unexcusable. Other companies will be happy to evaluate your character in an interview and see for themselves, and this is a story you can actually interview off of quite strongly (in fact how meticulously and honestly you were able to write about this makes me quite optimistic about that). There will be far worse things that will happen to you in life and your life will, sometimes begrudgingly, go on, I suggest taking this as such.

P.S. The lesson here? Goody-two-shoes version: Doing something wrong has completely unpredictable consequences. Realist version: Protocol and regulations are enforced far better than the perpetrator realizes. See: insider training.

It is not surprising to me that your engineering school had the caveman-level technical resources to dismantle your plan. This should not be surprising to you. Furthermore you can prove in an interview you really understand the consequences of, say, downloading company code illicitly better than anyone else (in particular that you will get caught!) So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and the first time someone asks you about this, breathe a sigh of relief since you know they're ready to be won over.


This is probably a good time to transfer to another college. Your situation is likely being discussed by all of the faculty in your department as well as many of the students. You've burnt any positive references you might have at this university which depending on the job market may make it very difficult to find work even if you do complete your degree there.

You need to transfer the work that you've completed so far and start over building up the trust and respect of a new set of faculty and peers.

You sacrificed whatever good will you had and financial aid when you bet on not being caught. It's time to salvage what you can, learn your lesson, and move on. Lots of people transfer for all sorts of reasons and you don't need to disclose your reason to everyone you meet. The transcript might list something about your situation, but it won't convey all of the details and the severity. You may need to work extra hard to build the respect and trust of anyone who has access to your transcript however at the undergrad level that shouldn't be a big problem.

Next time discuss the difficulty level of the classes you want to take with other student before taking them, estimate your ability to complete those classes to the quality level you want. If you can't complete 5 rigorous classes in one semester, then don't take 5 rigorous classes in one semester. If you find yourself stuck like this again, consider that getting a failing grade in a class isn't the end of your academic career. Depending on the timing and the institution you may be able to either drop the course or retake it and average the grade.

  • 4
    finally one answer that doesn't say "it isn't the end of the world, but yeah, you're pretty much finished and have little chance of obtaining an ing. degree, however, do enjoy your lesson and your status as a statistic of people who failed to become engineers", but offers realistic advice to salvage your career and move on. Honestly, I didn't expect such brutal attitude from the community. Makes me wonder why we don't still cut off the hands of thieves. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 12:44
  • 1
    @user3209815 - I don't see anything "brutal" about the other answers from the community. The O.P. committed a flagrant act of cheating and got busted; the punishment should be heavy-handed and not a slap on the wrist. Folks here are simply being up front about the gravity of the situation, and yet there is still plenty of talk about second chances and damage control in other answers besides this one. I also wonder if this is the O.P.'s first time cheating, or first time getting caught.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 0:16
  • 2
    @J.R. That right there is what I'm talking about, it is irrelevant whether OP cheated before. He turned to us with a specific question. While the majority of answers, as you say, still offers more or less genuine advice, the tone is judgmental and I dare say hostile. Cheating is a serious offense, so should be the punishment, however, this is a Q&A site and we, the members of the community, should try to keep our personal frustrations and disdain towards the poster or their situation out of an answer and attempt to provide an objective view to the poster's problem. Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 8:46
  • @user32 - I don't think it's "irrelevant;" the answer to that question might affect my counsel. If the O.P. came to my office for advice, I'd want to know. If the individual is a chronic cheater who just got caught for the first time, that's different than if the person had been an honest student until this one moment of weakness. I wouldn't treat both cases the same, and I don't think wondering aloud constitutes a "hostile" environment. I'm not sure that "How can I minimize the damage?" is the best (or only) question that should be asked; that's just being objective and helpful, not hostile.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 11:21
  • 1
    @J.R. It is irrelevant because it is not based on facts. The OP was caught cheating now and if he cheated before is only speculation, as there can be no proof for either case, regardless what OP might tell you if he came to your office for advice. "How can I minimize the damage?" may also not be the most relevant question, nor the only one, nor the best one, but it is the one that was posted. Your concerns and the judgmental attitude of some of the other answers might be in place only if you knew OP or the case on first-hand basis. OP came here for the answer to his question not for judgement. Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 12:46

If any of that happens, my future is over.

No it isn't. I personally know people who have done far worse and still manages to have good futures. For example, I know someone who stole thousands of dollars from a charity online funding campaign by hacking. He was jailed for 20 years, but when he came out he began a new life, atoned for what he did wrong, and become a professional programmer and now works for Amazon. You're mistake is much less worse. It is much easier to recover. You didn't actually commit a crime. Here is the worst that could happen in 3 punishments:

1.Dean warning. You lose your financial aid. Then, you need to work where you can't cheat. This will make college harder for sure, but I know people who do it. And I have a feeling that after a bit of this you may get financial aid back and they see that you do really care.

2.Suspension. This is worse than 1. You are out for 2 years. During those 2 years, though, you can get a job and as such real world experience. Maybe also go to therapy. While you'll be delayed by 2 years in school, on the upside, you will learn actually useful things.

3.Expulsion. This is a really big problem...but not life ending. Youre expelled and then, as I have said before, will have to get a job. After a few years of real-world job experience, during which time you might learn more than you would at school, you should be able to be accepted into a different college. Large setback, but overcomeable.

In conclusion, the worst that can happen to you is that you need to actually work for a bit/while and possibly are set back a few years schoolwise. Not the end of your future.

To answer your original question:The damage has been done, the genie is out. Don't say anything unless asked. You can't fully fix this immediatly. You won't get them not to report you. The best you can do is accept your punishment, learn, get a job and real-world experience, and eventually resume school. You're not 2 anymore, and "Sowwy. I prowise to newer do it again." doesn't work. Welcome to the real world, where things aren't fixed in 2 seconds.


(I originally planned to make this just a comment, but then I realized that I have too much to say for a comment. I'll still try not to repeat what was said before and keep on topic.)

  1. Please, feel sorry for your friend. I know what I say, since I was more than often the one helping in cheating, but not the one trying to cheat himself. If there is a hearing with the course responsible, please try to explain this to them, because at least in my eyes, your friend is not guilty here, he's been just a friend.

  2. Side note to the previous point: When they took your phone to find out who'd helped you, they might have done so illegally, depending on your country, and on other circumstances. I need not be right and it's not something you should use to get a profit from it. But it could be helpful if your friend got into troubles too. Update: I just learned that you gave them consent to the search, which probably changes a lot. Still, I think that this aspect may be considered, but don't want to give you false hope.

  3. Do not give up. I know it's easy to say and difficult to do, but you should perform at school at the same level as you did before. All the people that will treat your case and make any decisions are humans, not robots, and you haven't lost your credit completely, you "just" cheated in one course. Facing the problem in as professional manner as possible is certainly helpful.

And to answer your original question: How can I convince the instructors not to report it? You shouldn't. (But that has been addressed by the other answers.)

  • 13
    Helping someone cheating is also academic dishonesty, and his friend is probably also in troubles. I suspect his friend will get a lean penalty... The people which helped him on WhatsUp might also be in trouble, depending on how much they know... And helping someone else cheat is WRONG.
    – Nick S
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 20:02
  • 1
    "But you are not cheating, I am!" <--- This is exactly the reason why students MUST read the Student Code of Conduct or however else is called at your university. I am pretty sure that for almost all universities it is stated clearly there that helping someone else cheating is also cheating...At my school, we actually put a section on academic integrity in syllabus/outline....
    – Nick S
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 20:16
  • 3
    @NickS: Cheating is treated quite differently in different countries, both from the students' perspective and the professors' perspective. For example, here in Italy there is no general policy about cheating and cheating is directly managed by the professor who finds a student cheating (typically failing him, but with no report to a higher authority). Probably the situation is similar in other EU countries. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 20:28
  • 3
    @MassimoOrtolano It probably depends on Country, University or instructor, but I don't think that the students caught cheating first time get an extreme penalty, it is the second time when things get tough. And an official warning on their dossier stops them from cheating in any class, while your warning probably stops them from cheating in the classes you are teaching....
    – Nick S
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 21:24
  • 3
    The university is not the police, though, and so any legal restrictions on the types of searches the police may perform don't have any obvious reason to apply to a university faculty member. Remember the university is not charging anyone with a crime. There is also a significant difference between a random person on the street (who you don't know) and a professor who is teaching your class - and the issue that the student could have simply walked away, but didn't. Really, unless someone can cite an actual case, any legal speculation seems to be just speculation. @tohecz Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:27

In order to minimize the damage it is essential to have a different plan you will follow if you ever find yourself in a similar situation in the future. One option is to ask for help.

If your course workload is too much for you, talk to someone - an instructor, an adviser, even fellow students etc. If the workload really is unreasonable, the more students saying so, the more likely the department would be to change it. If most students are coping, you may get advice on how to cope. Or maybe you needed to take an extra year, or move to a different, less demanding program.

In any case, you need to have a definite plan for dealing with similar situations. Even in the short term, having that plan firmly in mind will come through in your interactions with others, and may help convince them this is the last time you will cheat.


Every error carries potential for something good. This is quite possibly an example of being manipulated into cheating without even knowing. The school's error, quite possibly, may be that they are expecting unrealistic amount of studying to be done by a student. It takes time to absorb new knowledge; they may think "well others have done it before..." but no one knows how much previous knowledge others had. Usually those who are getting top marks have more than average or required knowledge about the subject. I know, I have certainly been in that situation (when I was a student, while others were struggling with math, I did not; but I used to win math competitions, and my mother and my roommate at the time were both math teachers). However, this still does not give you a reason to cheat. The lessons is: no matter how badly someone else is behaving (and I have seen that in many institutions of higher learning), you should always do things that are ethical. Integrity is one thing that makes all the difference on this planet. Yes, I think that your school lacks in that department, but you have shown to be just the same at that moment you cheated. Once you understand that, that we are often manipulated into "cheating" (e.g. when doing 85 mph on a 65 mph road, where the conditions, car, and even road survey make that 85mph perfectly safe) you look at your error in better light.

Ultimately, this is not a perfect world, and one needs to be aware of other people's errors so that we are not misled into doing more of the same. In the end, if your school is one of the nation's leading institutions, they are unlikely to budge; but if it is a "for profit" institution with questionable record, they may be willing to back down. The point you made about too much work should be mentioned in your meeting. You can tell them honestly that in all that panic of not having enough time to prepare (they should know you need to sleep, eat, go to a doctor and whatnot), you could not think clearly and this seemed like the only way out. Perhaps you were under too much stress to think clearly and make a right decision. You obviously did not feel you could honestly approach them and let them know that expectations were too high. But, don't focus on their error. Your part of the error is what matters. Ask yourself - what it would take you to sell your integrity. Only when the answer is a firm "there is no way", is it a correct one.

  • 17
    The school did not manipulate him into cheating. The other students managed not to come up with an elaborate plan to break the rules.
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 15:28
  • 8
    In every class we are teaching there are few students which cannot keep with the course... This doesn't mean that the class has unreasonable expectations, or that we are manipulating them into cheating......
    – Nick S
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 17:33

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