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Ethical Choices a Student Might Face

by Dr. Mary Dowd

Throughout your education, you will grapple with many choices that test personal values, beliefs and priorities. Ethical decision-making involves using a set of principles to resolve dilemmas with moral implications. Underlying most ethical theories is a commitment to personal integrity, justice, fairness and concern for the common good.

College Application

When applying for college, you will be asked questions about yourself and your reasons for wanting to pursue a degree. It is expected that students provide thorough and honest answers. The College Board reports that competition for college admission has led some students to act unethically in the admissions process. Examples include parents over editing admissions essays, students exaggerating high school accomplishments and omitting disciplinary infractions that were supposed to be disclosed on the form.

Academic Dishonesty

Cheating on tests, plagiarizing papers, illegally downloading materials, sabotaging other students' work and lying to professors about the reason for missing class are forms of academic misconduct reported in 2009 by Yeung and Keup at the University of California, Los Angeles. Yeung and Keup also found that students are more likely to cheat if they believe peers are engaging in dishonest behavior and getting away with it.

Alcohol and Drugs

According to Kirk Hanson, director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, students often encounter unfamiliar situations that pose ethical dilemmas, such as whether to get help for an unconscious friend in the dorms when you both might get into trouble for drinking. Hanson’s research suggests that choices about partying, drinking alcohol and using drugs to enhance academic or athletic performance are among the top ten issues faced by college freshman. Students can also be pressured by peers to participate in drinking games, hazing rituals and drug experimentation.

Social Media

The proliferation of social networking has prompted many questions about its appropriate use. As a student, you must choose how to portray yourself to a global audience that includes family members, teachers, law enforcement officers and prospective employers. Embarrassing photos from parties can be found in internet searches years later.

Interpersonal Relationships

Treating others with respect and dignity is a core ethical principle, according to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. In college, you will meet people whose beliefs and backgrounds may differ from your own. You will have the opportunity to examine your cultural assumptions, consider opposing perspectives and embrace diversity. Everyday encounters such as getting along with roommates will help you develop skills in communication and compromise.

Job Search

Applying for a job in school or upon graduation raises many of the same ethical considerations as the college admission process. To gain an edge over other applicants, students sometimes embellish achievements on resumes and during job interviews, as reported by the National Career Development Association. Ultimately, you have to decide if you want to get ahead at any cost or cultivate a reputation as a person with ethics and integrity.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.

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