A couple of weeks ago I attended a college admissions round table in Houston.  The format was much more informal than a traditional conference, and it allowed for some really good back-and-forth discussion with the other college counselors in attendance.  It’s always good to get other professional opinions on topics such as these, and I certainly learned quite a lot.

As the newly-minted Director of Counseling at my school, my main role is to provide social and emotional guidance for our students.  We have a separate college counselor who oversees college admissions, but I am still highly involved in that aspect.  So I found it particularly interesting when the round table discussion turned to the personal qualities that colleges are looking for in applicants; this was a great chance to explore the social/emotional side of college admissions.

One of the attendees mentioned a previous conference he’d attended that included some of the big regional universities:  University of Oklahoma, TCU, and Texas A&M to name a few.  According to this attendee, many of these colleges suggested that the typical freshman is not prepared for success in college.  When asked to elaborate, the universities pretty much agreed that high school students in general are deficient in two critical areas.  So, what are they?


The number one concern that colleges expressed about their students is a lack of integrity.  Specifically, colleges feel that students are too inclined to cheat.  According to a comprehensive study on cheating by Dr. Donald McCabe, college students cheat at an alarming rate:

  • Number of Students Responding: 71,300
  • Percent who admit to cheating on tests: 39%
  • Percent who admit to cheating on written assignments: 62%
  • Percent total who admit written or test cheating: 68%

68% of college undergraduate students admit to cheating!  That is nearly 7 out of every 10 students!  And the numbers are even higher when looking at the over 70,000 high school students polled in the study.  Simply put, cheating is major problem in schools.

The reasons for cheating are varied and lengthy, but it mainly comes down to two variables.  First, students are feeling increased pressure to “win at all costs.”  From competitive college admissions to high-stakes employment, students see the path of least resistance.  My last blog post reviewed the film A Race to Nowhere, and this was the biggest takeaway from the film.  Students are feeling increasingly pressured to perform at high levels, even at the expense of their integrity.

Second, students do not necessarily view cheating as wrong.  In a 2011 study conducted at the University of Missouri, researchers found that 1 in 3 undergraduate students feel that cheating is ok in certain situations.  Among these acceptable situations, students cited a overly hard class and an incompetent teacher as reasons cheating is not necessarily wrong.  While the majority did indicate that cheating was never acceptable, it is still noteworthy that so many students feel cheating is justifiable in any situation.

So, when looking at both of these variables, it’s no wonder cheating is seen as problematic on college campuses.


The other critical area that students are lacking when stepping onto college campuses is resiliency.  Or, as one of the roundtable attendees called it, “grit.”  I like to think of resiliency (or grit) as a person’s ability to get knocked down, dust themselves off, and get right back at it.  Unfortunately our culture is not necessarily supporting this idea.  Too often parents make excuses for their kids, which then reinforces to the kids that they can make excuses for themselves.

In school students are starting to expect straight As without putting in the required effort.  And when they don’t receive the straight As they look to place blame on someone else:  the test was unfair, the teacher hates me, the assignment wasn’t clear, etc.  In many instances it is actually the student’s lack of effort or preparation that led to the lower-than-hoped-for grade.

This isn’t only happening in the classroom; it’s also happening in extracurricular activities, such as sports and even jobs.  When the going gets tough, too often students just give up on sports or quit a job they don’t like.   We even see this with NCAA athletes who transfer after a year because they are not starting.  We have to reinforce the idea that it’s ok to fail; this is often times the best way to learn.  Failure, when supported afterwards, teaches resiliency.

How to Teach These Skills

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, “the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”

It is imperative that parents teach and reinforce resiliency at home.  Furthermore, coaches play a huge part in this learning process, as athletics is one of the best ways to teach grit.  Seek out opportunities to encourage resiliency in your children.  Don’t seek the easy way out for them.  Let them fight their own battles.

If resiliency improves then it seems to reason the need for cheating will decrease.  Once kids learn that failure is ok, then integrity will improve.  These social/emotional skills are vital to our kids’ future success.