Scouting magazine

Ethics debate: Who should write a student’s college essay?

THE COLD WAR MIGHT be finished, but there’s a new arms race underway. Eager to get into America’s most-selective colleges, high-schoolers are beefing up their résumés with more and more extracurriculars, hiring consultants to help with college applications and doing everything they can to boost their grade-point averages. 

For many, a 4.0 GPA is no longer good enough; students take honors or Advanced Placement courses that give them “weighted” GPAs of 4.5 or higher. Given this pressure, it’s no surprise that some students cheat.

Use this fictional ethical dilemma with your Scouts to explore the gray area between helping a friend and cheating on his behalf.

The Dilemma
Since he was a child, Bronson McLean has dreamed of attending Princeton University. He has decorated his bedroom with Princeton paraphernalia. His school locker sports Princeton Tigers bumper stickers. And he even persuaded the other members of his Boy Scout patrol to call themselves the Tigers instead of the Sharks.

Bronson has a 4.24 GPA, great SAT scores and a solid résumé. But he lacks one thing: the ability to write persuasively. When he learns that the Princeton application requires a 500-word essay on “an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world,” he panics. He has no idea what to write about and knows that, even if he did, he couldn’t effectively communicate his thoughts.

With time running out, he approaches fellow Tiger Patrol member Josh Walser (who has already been accepted to an in-state public university) with a simple proposition: Write the essay, and I’ll give you $100. Bronson hates to cheat, but he believes he has no choice.

For Discussion
In trying to solve his problem, Bronson has created an ethical dilemma for his friend as well as for himself. To clarify the discussion, invite your Scouts or Venturers to put themselves in each character’s place as they answer the following questions:

For Josh, the Friend

For Bronson, the Princeton Hopeful

Next Steps
Challenge your Scouts or Venturers to devise a solution to this dilemma that doesn’t involve cheating but still gives Bronson a decent chance of getting in to Princeton. Invite them to reflect on times when they’ve faced a situation similar to Bronson’s or Josh’s.