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I got a B.S. in Math several years ago. I'm applying for CS MS this fall, but I still need some coursework before admission. I spent the past year at College X as a non-degree student. I did well last fall (all As), but was caught cheating on an elective CS class this spring (googled some answers on one homework assignment). The result is a B- in the class (instead of a B). I realize I'm fortunate for a pretty minimal penalty -- I just got a 0 on the assignment, and a one-semester probation (which doesn't affect me since I was only a non-degree student here and I'm not continuing here anyway). I don't have an excuse for this, and I don't know why I decided to do this. This is the only time I've cheated. For whatever it's worth, it's not indicated on my transcript, only in some confidential file the university has somewhere. My questions are:

  1. How badly does this affect my chances for admission? I was planning on applying to just one top 20 school that I doubt I'd get into anyway, but most of the schools on my list are still ranked in the top 50.

  2. More importantly, is there anything I can do to repair the situation? I don't have years of time before application season to be able to say it happened a long time ago. That said, I'm taking two classes this summer at College Y, and another class in the fall at either College Z or Z'. The advice given in a similar thread here was to do very well in classes from here on out, but would people reading my application even believe the rest of my work is honest after committing academic dishonesty?

If I go to College Z this fall, I could also retake the same class from this spring. It wouldn't do anything to help my GPA at College X, but my GPA there is > 3.6 anyway. I believe I could do well, at least an A-. The class also covers an extra couple chapters, one of which is related to my CS interests. Would it be worth "retaking?" It's basically the same class, so it feels like it might be a waste of time, especially since one B- isn't that bad. If I go to College Z' this fall, I could probably take an advanced class related to the class I took this spring. This advanced (joint undergrad/grad) class seems to cover a lot of material specifically related to my CS interests.

My overall application is pretty strong (3.7 GPA, GRE 170Q, 158V, 4.5A, 2-3 strong LORs, 75%ile Math Subject GRE). Hopefully it helps that three schools I'm considering are Colleges Y, Z, and Z', so maybe having a little bit of coursework done at two of them could help.

Thanks for any advice.

closed as off-topic by Bob Brown, David Richerby, jakebeal, D.W., David Z Jun 10 '15 at 5:50

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – Bob Brown, David Richerby, jakebeal, D.W., David Z
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    I have to wonder, what school did you go to, where using online sources to help figure out the solution to a programming problem is considered "cheating"?!? As a professional computer programmer, out in the real world that's generally considered "one of the most valuable tools in your toolkit," and even when I was in college that wasn't frowned upon so long as you used it to help you learn rather than looking up the answer instead of learning. – Mason Wheeler Jun 9 '15 at 17:49
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    I don't think the academic dishonesty is relevant at all. Since the (pretty minimal, as you say) consequences are known, really this question is just "I got a B- instead of a B, does it affect my application?". – OJFord Jun 9 '15 at 17:52
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    @MasonWheeler, the OP didn't state the nature of the homework assignment, or whether use of internet resources was specifically disallowed. If the assignment was (for example), "Write an essay on the development of C++ from C" and part of the work was plagiarized, then the discipline was deserved. – Terry Lewis Jun 9 '15 at 18:18
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    @MasonWheeler As a CS professor, in some cases (such as project-based courses), using online sources is encouraged; in a few cases it's forbidden, such as when I'm reusing a classic problem or algorithm. – Ellen Spertus Jun 9 '15 at 21:12
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    Perhaps you should reflect on why you cheated and whether you really want to put in the time and effort required to get an advanced degree or if your transgression was a subconscious suggestion that you would rather be doing something else. – Kevin Jun 10 '15 at 1:25
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Based on what you stated, it doesn't really sound like this will follow you anywhere. You were caught, they gave you a token punishment, and everyone moved on. It's not as though you have to state your dishonesty on your resume or whatnot. I would recommend treating it as a lesson learned, and unless someone specifically asks you about it, don't bring it up.

To directly answer your questions... no, you really can't do anything to fix it. It's part of your history now. However, it may not affect your application, as they receiving university will probably never find out about it.

Note that all of this is based on the assumption that your dishonesty does not go on your official transcript, based on your having stated that in the question text. If it is on the official transcript—the one that one university will send to another when asked—then your situation is a good deal worse.

  • I'm not too worried about a B- instead of a B. But I think most applications ask if you've ever faced any academic probation, and while many people reading my application might not see this specific case as a big deal, it still might be easier to admit the guy with similar stats who doesn't have any issues on his record since CS is so competitive these days. I'll have to wait until applications open to see what specifically is asked. That said, it's not documented on my transcript in any way, so if it's not asked, it certainly won't affect my applications. – user1201997 Jun 9 '15 at 22:49
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    Well, were you put on academic probation? Your question didn't mention that. It's something you would receive a formal notice from the college administration about, as far as I know. If you didn't get that formal notice, then you were not put on probation, and you should say as much (i.e. check the "no" box) on any applications that ask about it. – David Z Jun 10 '15 at 5:49
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The bigger concern in this matter is not what impact this incident has had on your grades, but on letters of recommendation. Who is going to be writing them for you, and how will they see this?

The professor who taught the class in question is presumably a bad pick, both because they caught you cheating, and because they gave you your worst grade in that program.

Other professors in that program, and likely anywhere, will potentially ask to see your transcripts, to get a general sense of your capabilities, and will ask about that outlier grade. You'd better hope they're willing to excuse that indiscretion.

  • Right, I obviously wouldn't ask the professor of this course for a LOR. My references from my math courses in college have written me letters before and some have asked for my grades, but none has ever questioned me about the occasional B or even a C+. Even if I were asked about it, the 0 on that assignment had less bearing on my grade than the fact that I messed up the midterm. My only concern is if I should ask a professor from that school for a class I got an A in. This incident is supposedly confidential, but people in academia tend to spread information sometimes anyway. – user1201997 Jun 9 '15 at 22:58

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