Contrary to the myth that only lazy or stupid students resort to plagiarizing a paper or peeking at a neighbor's exam, anyone can be a cheater. A high GPA and strenuous study habits are no protection against the temptation to cheat.
In fact, students who are academically ambitious can sometimes be even more susceptible to the promise of a guaranteed A than a regular student.
University of Oregon graduate student Casey Wood knew she was close to receiving A's in her summer term classes. She was the kind of student who spent 15 to 20 hours a week studying. But when an opportunity to cheat on one of her final exams presented itself, she succumbed to the temptation.
"I wanted to make sure I would get an A," Wood said.
Another student in her class on special education research methods had received an advance copy of the final exam and e-mailed it to Wood. They tackled the questions together, and since the professor allowed students to bring a page of notes to the final, Wood had an easy way to cheat.
"My plan was to just go in with the final all completed with all the answers," she said. But feelings of guilt writhed in the back of her mind as the date of the final exam approached.
"I kind of convinced myself that I didn't do anything wrong, but underneath it all I think I knew that I did something against my morals and values," Wood said.
So she did something most cheaters wouldn't dream of doing.
"I didn't get caught for cheating -- I turned myself in," she said.
According to Student Judicial Affairs Director Chris Loschiavo, this is a very rare occurrence. Only one or two students in the last four years have come forward on their own and admitted to cheating.
Wood's mentor, Daniel Close, director of the Family and Human Services program at the College of Education, was also surprised by Wood's open admission of wrongdoing.
"We've never seen this before," Close said. "We're still baffled. We don't have experience with this."
But besides the surprise of Wood turning herself in, Close was also surprised that she had cheated at all.
"It just didn't make sense," Close said. "It was sad for me that she allowed herself to be put in that position. I've had her in four classes; she's been a paper grader for me, I know she's an honest person."
Unlike many other students who resort to cheating, Wood wasn't under any extreme circumstances and it wasn't a cheat-or-fail situation. She had studied extensively for the final exam and she said the material it covered wasn't difficult to master, but she was still worried about failing to achieve perfect grades.
"It was my first term in graduate school and I really wanted to do well," Wood said. "I put more pressure on myself than anyone else to get good grades. It's almost like I had to prove to myself I'm just as smart as anyone else."
Wood actually ended up earning an A in the class, but after the investigation it was changed to an F. And as part of her punishment, she had to complete an academic integrity seminar, retake a class that counts for research credits and write a letter of apology to her professor.
"That was probably one of the more difficult consequences, having to face him and admit what I did wrong," Wood said.
Although Wood pegs herself as an honest person, this wasn't the first time she cheated on a test. When she was a senior undergraduate she looked at another student's paper during a test, but just like she did in the other case, she confessed to her professor. The consequences for her transgression were less harsh, however, and she only got an F for the quiz, not the whole class.
Wood said she is very open about her mistakes and has confided in several of her professors, but she hasn't confessed the incident to her parents yet. "I don't want them to think I've always cheated." she said. "I don't want them to be disappointed in me."
Wood said she has cheated twice and turned herself in both times. She also said she definitely learned her lesson and will never cheat again. "One thing I've learned is grades aren't the most important thing," she said. "When I look back in five years I might remember my GPA but I won't remember what grade I received in a class."