While in undergrad in my final semester, I cheated on an exam and got caught. The teacher gave me a zero on the exam, I got a C- in the class, and I got a warning from the Dean's Office, which is on my academic record, but not on my transcripts.

Fast forward 2 years after graduation, I want to apply to a masters/PhD program. However, I am afraid that nothing I have done since will make up for the fact that I cheated.

I know I did something terrible, and I was in a very low mental health status back then. I have since attended rehab, and worked a full time job,to give myself time to figure out my life.

Are my chances for higher education zero? I feel like there is no point in even applying because of my terrible mistake.

  • 7
    People make mistakes. You did one, got caught, and "paid" the price for it. Now it's time to move on. This issue shouldn't even come up when you apply, but if it does - telling what you wrote above will serve your goal - showing you grew up and learned from your mistakes!
    – Ran G.
    Jan 18, 2016 at 2:21
  • @TalTal Are you concerned that you won't be admitted? Or that you somehow don't deserve a second chance and/or are likely to do something similar? To answer the first: I don't think this will come up in your application process. To answer the second: it sounds like you have taken steps to move on, but ultimately, only you can answer that question.
    – Dan C
    Jan 18, 2016 at 2:58
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    I think the main thing to consider is whether your undergrad professors are still willing to write you letters of recommendation, in light of the incident. You're going to need to talk to them about it eventually, so might as well start now. Jan 18, 2016 at 4:32
  • I don't know why people are saying it won't come up. In all the grad apps I filled out they ask "have you ever faced academic probation etc.", and some even ask all the way back to high school. I would be honest. Lying does you no good.
    – user41631
    Jan 18, 2016 at 5:05
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    If you have never cheated again, go ahead and apply. Some will ask you about it, some will reject you because of it, but then, some will not. Cheating is bad, but if it is a one-off, it's lesson learnt. Worse sinners have been pardoned. Jan 18, 2016 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


There is no harm in applying. There are a couple points to keep in mind:

  • Unless the place you are applying explicitly asks about it, you don't need to mention it on your own. I do not know if you were on probation, or anything like that - you would have to look at the formal wording of the letter you received from the dean. Students at my school who are punished for cheating are not "on probation" in any formal sense. You don't want to lie, but you also don't need to bring up anything that you aren't asked about.

  • If an institution does ask a question which requires you to acknowledge the incident, then answer honestly, and be sure to also address the issue in your statement of purpose. In this case, it might also be good to arrange with a professor to mention the issue and its resolution it in a letter of recommendation.

The explanation you gave in the question would be fine for a statement of purpose: you went through a difficult period, sought help, and took time to work through the issue. Many people find themselves in that kind of situation, so you are not unique or even unusual. Some programs may decide not to admit you, but I suspect there are programs that will give you a second chance. It may depend, to some extent, on your field - fields where honesty is particularly important may be less willing.

  • It's not probation- it simply states "academic dishonesty". It was my last semester, so they couldn't put me on probation since I graduated 2 weeks after the incident occured
    – TalTal
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:24

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