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Articles / Admissions / College Honor Codes

May 20, 2020

College Honor Codes

If you are a high school student, let me ask you a question. Does your school have an honor code? If so, I'd like to know how well it works. Please drop our readers some information about that in the Comments section below.

If your school doesn't have an honor code and you're headed to college, perhaps it might help you to know what to expect when you go to a college that expects its students to follow one. Here's some helpful information about the primary purpose of Codes:

No less an authority than Wikipedia defines "honor code" as such:

An honor code or honor system is a set of rules or principles governing a community based on a set of rules or ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community. The use of an honor code depends on the idea that people (at least within the community) can be trusted to act honorably. Those who are in violation of the honor code can be subject to various sanctions, including expulsion from the institution. Honor codes are most commonly used in the United States to deter academic dishonesty.

Stanford University has a useful page discussing honor codes across the country:

The honor code is a major part of life at colleges and universities across the United States. Although each college has its own way of preventing and dealing with cheating whether it be judicial committees, fundamental standards, or peer juries, most incorporate some sort of honor system.

What is an Honor Code?

The honor code is a statement addressing issues such as cheating, stealing, and misrepresentation, made by a school or other institution in which its participants pledge to adhere to. Honor codes are self-regulating because under an honor code, students are required to turn in other students in violation of the code. Some issues addressed in honor codes are the following:

o Cheating

o Plagiarism

o Fabrication

o Multiple submissions

o Misrepresentation

o Unfair advantages

Most college honor code violations are cheating and plagiarism, therefore, some Honor Codes also include guidelines or points of emphasis to help keep misunderstanding and problems to a minimum. Many of the honor codes write that students should distinguish what is truly their work from other people's ideas. The honor codes also recommend that students should know exactly what their professors expect and want on a particular assignment.

In traditional "honor code schools", there are honor pledges, student-organized honor systems, unproctored exams, and the requirement to turn in suspected cheating incidents. Some schools do not have a traditional honor code, but they usually have a set of rules or some writing that articulates the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all students. These fundamentals cover not only academic work and integrity, but also campus life. These rights include respecting all students, faculty, and staff, respecting other people's property. Regardless of the type of honor code it employs, all colleges and universities are trying to insure an ethical and fair environment for all students.

Links to honor codes and fundamental standards of different universities:






What Happens When Violations of the Honor Code Occur?

According to most college websites discussing the Honor Code, the most frequent violations occur when a student submits another person's work as his own, or when a student gives or receives unpermitted aid. Examples of these types of violations are anywhere from copying another students problem set or handing in a paper that was bought of the web.

Almost all the colleges have a judicial system that either student or faculty run. In most cases, once a violation is reported, the accused student must go before a panel of their peers or faculty members. Once a student is found or pleads guilty, they usually receive a suspension from the university and community service hours. The harshness of the punishment depends on the severity of the violation committed, the truthfulness of the accused student, and the level of premeditation. In most cases the student still receives a grade in the course where the violation occurred.

Site that deals with honor code violations:


As always, there are some excellent threads on the College Confidential discussion forum. Here are some regarding honor codes.

You may even have to deal with college honor codes before you get to college. Here's a Haverford College essay requirement from their application:

Haverford is a community in which members of a diverse student body and faculty can live together, interact, and engage academically and socially in ways that promote both personal freedom and community standards. If a diverse community is to prosper and if its educational goals are to be fully realized, community members must make genuine attempts to come to terms with their differences. Mutual understanding is fostered by respectful communication.

Haverford's Honor Code engenders a climate of trust, concern, and respect. The Honor Code affirms, for instance, the importance of not seeking unfair academic advantage by cheating or plagiarizing. The Code also requires community members to take responsibility for their words and actions in the social realm. The Honor Code serves as an educational tool without being a list of rules, leading students to hold each other accountable and to resolve conflicts. By encouraging respectful dialogue and conduct, we hope to create an atmosphere that is open, respectful, lively, and conducive to intellectual and personal growth.

Haverford's Honor Code has been in place for more than 100 years. Each year the Haverford student body reconsiders its commitment to these values, recognizing that the community and the Honor Code must continue to change and grow. The Honor Code is publicly re-evaluated and reaffirmed every year, yielding a dynamic living document that has a real presence in life at the College. Matriculation at Haverford will enable you to take part in this process of growth and change. To read a complete version of the current Honor Code, or for additional information, please visit www.haverford.edu/code.

We recognize that reading about an Honor Code is very different from living with it. Nevertheless, if you come to Haverford, the Code will be a part of your college life. We therefore ask you to write a reflective essay of 1-2 pages in response to one of the following prompts:

1. Given the dynamic nature of the Honor Code and the opportunity you will have to shape and change the Code if you come to Haverford, what issues and ideas do you think are essential for an Honor Code to focus on, and how should an Honor Code address them?

2. Write about an experience in which you encountered a tension between personal freedom and community standards. Discuss the experience and the underlying issues, how you dealt with the tension, and whether or not there was a satisfactory resolution.

3. The Honor Code at Haverford creates an environment of deep trust, respect, and collegiality between professors and students which, in turn, fosters open dialogue and free intellectual exchange. Talk about the conditions you think are essential to allowing this type of dialogue and exchange in both academic and non-academic settings.

Awesome, huh? I wonder how many Haverford applicants had somebody else write their honor code essay.

So, keep all this in mind when you're doing your college search. The behaviors you take for granted now, in high school, could become problematic for you if you enroll at a college with a strictly enforced honor code . . . honest.


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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