Ethics: Entering college through the side door

The Dilemma

Like many students, Tony Freeport isn’t great at taking standardized tests, writing essays or doing the other little things that would get him into an elite college. So, he spends a lot of time in college prep sessions — a lot of time.

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At one of those sessions, the conversation turns to news stories about parents who have paid people to take their kids’ ACT and SAT or actually bribed college officials. The instructor says that stuff like that is clearly out of bounds (not to mention illegal) but that there are plenty of “creative ways” (her phrase) students can make the system work for them. She then tells the group about some of the things her previous students have done, including making up an honor society and naming them- selves and their friends as officers.

“When you think about it, that’s better than putting National Honor Society on your résumé when you did nothing beyond getting inducted,” she says. “Now, I’m not saying you should do this, but it has been done.”

Is doing things like that ethical? If not, is it ethical for the instructor to mention them?

For Discussion

Before discussing the ethical aspects of this dilemma with your youth, divide a whiteboard or flipchart into two columns. In the first column, have the group list qualities that colleges are looking for in new students. In the second, have them list ways that colleges can assess each of those qualities. (For example, GPAs are an indicator of academic potential.)

Next, have the group brainstorm questionable techniques, starting with those listed above. Write each on a separate index card. Once you have 10 or more, have the group lay them out on a table in order from most ethical to least ethical. Challenge the group to identify the point in the progression where the techniques clearly cross the line into being unacceptable.

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Discuss these questions:

  • What makes an action ethical or unethical?
  • What made you decide that some techniques were acceptable?
  • What made you decide that some techniques were unacceptable?
  • Did you base your decisions on comparisons with other techniques? (For example, was technique A acceptable because it wasn’t nearly as bad as technique B?)
  • Should ethical decisions be based on comparisons like that?
  • Finally, discuss whether it was unethical for the instructor to mention the “creative” techniques. If it was, have the group decide what action, if any, Tony should take.

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