Whose Application Is It, Anyway?

A parent wonders if it's cheating to help her child with a college essay.

BY: Joseph I. Telushkin


Dear Joseph,

My son is filling out his college applications and has several essays to write. He isn't the greatest writer, and I've been doing some fairly heavy editing (OK, rewriting) on his work. I'm feeling a little guilty, but it's a very competitive year for kids. I even know parents who shell out a lot of money for experts to work with teenagers on their essays. If everyone else gets help and my son gets no help, I'm afraid he won't get accepted anywhere.


Dear Ghostwriter,

Your question is an important one, and I find that I can't come up with a definitive response. On the one hand, what you are doing is a type of cheating. And what if a lot of kids at your son's school were cheating on tests, and your son, by refusing to do so, was jeopardizing his prospects for getting into a good college? Would you then advocate that he cheat? I would guess not.

Some years ago, my friend Dennis Prager, the Los Angeles-based talk show host, showed a film in which a mother defends her son's cheating with arguments remarkably similar to yours: "It's very competitive out there, if he doesn't cheat, he won't get in to good schools; everybody else does it." The film then cuts to a scene of this same woman being wheeled into surgery. A frightened look on her face, she asks the doctor, "You`re very confident about the procedure you're performing, aren't you?" And the doctor responds, "I don't know, lady. I cheated my way through medical school."

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