The Student News Site of Saratoga High School

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

College essays: the ethics behind the madness

Editor’s note: Bob is a pseudonym to protect the subject’s privacy. 

English teacher Cathy Head has been helping students with college essays for decades. She now has her fair share of anecdotes: students who apply to a ridiculously high number of colleges, others who rush frantically to finish essays at the last minute. But she remembers one senior’s fateful essay in particular.

She shared his story this year with the seniors in her AP Literature classes, with a nostalgic introduction to set the mood: “Long, long ago, before students had PCs and laptops for writing their college essays, in a kingdom right about the same place we are today, a student named Bob faced an ethical conundrum.”

Fifteen or 20 years ago — Head can no longer quite remember — Bob had just finished writing his college essay for a prestigious East Coast university. It was handwritten, and Bob gave it to his father’s secretary to type before sending it on its way.

Bob did not check the typed version once it was completed, but some time later, he found his handwritten essay among his father’s other papers.

“[It had] editing all over it in his dad’s penmanship — his father had revised the essay before turning it over to his secretary,” Head said.

This discovery left Bob with two choices: He could do nothing, even knowing that the essay that had been submitted to the university was not his own, or he could admit what had happened to the university and risk his chances at this “top tier school.”

The crux of the matter was that Bob’s original essay was by no means perfect. His father’s version was far superior, much more polished. But it had not been written by Bob.

Ultimately, Bob’s conscience won out, and he sent the original, handwritten version of the essay to the university with a letter explaining what had happened.

“Integrity was important to him — important enough to ask them to replace the polished essay they had with the handwritten draft,” Head said.

In the end, the university rewarded his integrity with a slot in its freshman class.

According to Head, Bob went on to have a successful experience in college. He also eventually made amends with his father, who initially looked down upon Bob’s choice to risk his admission “‘just’ for honor.”

Head said that Bob’s story demonstrates how highly colleges value honesty and integrity.

“It can make or break a recommendation,” she said. “[Colleges] want students who do their own work, do their own learning and represent the school well.”

In addition, based on Bob’s experience, there is something to be said about parents’ involvement in their children’s college applications.

“Being a parent of a senior is so hard!” Head said. “But I think if parents realize that their kids will have to succeed in college by themselves, without parental management, they might let them complete the admissions process independently.”

At the same time, Head added, parents have the ability to play a positive role as students apply to colleges: They can provide emotional support to young people going through a stressful experience.

Reflecting on Bob’s story, Head thinks the biggest lesson is that students must break away from the mindset of “everybody does it” or “it only matters if you get caught.”

“Who you are matters,” Head said. “Being a person of character matters. Respect yourself, and care about whether others respect you. And if someone else [tries] to push you into gray ethics, fight for your integrity.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Saratoga Falcon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *