Ethics: Doing what it takes to get into college

The Dilemma

As he starts applying for college, junior Adam Connors knows he’ll need some help. His grades are average, his résumé is so-so and his family is solidly middle class — not well off enough to pay for his education but too well off to qualify for need-based aid.

Adam’s friend Tanner Marshall is in the same boat, but he has a plan: Join as many clubs and organizations as possible, butter up teachers who might write good recommendations and get “creative” in putting together a résumé. He even suggests the friends invent a school chess club — although they can barely handle checkers — and elect each other president and vice president.

When Adam expresses skepticism, Tanner says, “You gotta level the playing field. How else are you going to compete with the brainiacs, the star athletes and the real cheaters?”

Should Adam play along? Or should he resign himself to a second-tier school and a lifetime of student debt?

Photo by Getty Images/Istockphoto

For Discussion

Read the dilemma aloud to your Scouts or Venturers, or your own family. Have them list, perhaps on a whiteboard, the four actions Tanner suggests taking.

Discuss these questions:

Are any of these actions unethical? If so, which ones and why?

What do you think Tanner means by getting “creative” with his résumé? How “creative” could he get without crossing the line?

Is it ethical to join a bunch of organizations just to list them on your résumé? Why or why not?

What about inventing a school chess club? Is that more or less ethical than being a member in name only of an established group like the National Honor Society? Why?

What do you think of Tanner’s argument about leveling the playing field?

Would your view of this situation be different if a college counselor had given Tanner his ideas? Why or why not?

Would your view be different if Adam and Tanner came from rich families? Why or why not?

Would your view be different if Adam and Tanner came from poor families? Why or why not?

Next …

Invite your Scouts, Venturers or family members to decide what Adam should do with his own résumé and what action, if any, he should take regarding Tanner’s résumé. Ask if anyone is comfortable discussing how this situation compares with their or their friends’ experience getting into college.

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