Study: A Quarter Of Parents Cheat To Get Their Students Into College


One in four parents cheated or falsified information to get their students into college, according to education site, Intelligent. The survey was completed by 1,250 parents with at least one child currently in college or already graduated from college and defined cheating as falsifying portions of a college application, writing or paying someone to write a college admissions essay or take a standardized test, bribing college admissions officials, making a sizable donation to an institution, or encouraging their child to cheat on a standardized test.

The study also found that half of the parents of children attending a for-profit college cheated to get their child in the school. Nearly half of respondents said they cheated because their child’s high school GPA was perceived as too low. And 78% of parents that cheated to help their child get into college said the child was aware of the cheating.


Parents from high-income households ($125,000 or more annually) cheated at a higher rate (33%) than any other income bracket, the study found. The lowest-income bracket ($49,999 or less annually per household) admitted cheating at a slightly lower rate of 29%. Middle-income households (making $50,000 to $124,999) were the least likely to cheat with just 19% admitting to cheating.

“Every parent who takes unethical actions to help their child get into college has their own motivation for doing so,” spokesperson Kristen Scatton said in the published summary of the report. “For lower-income parents, higher education may be the path towards a financially secure future for their children. It may seem worth it to bend the rules a bit to help their kids get into college.

“On the other hand, high-income families may be more concerned with maintaining their social and financial status, often by ensuring their child attends a prominent institution,” Scatton added. “As we saw with the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, individuals with greater means may engage in unethical behavior from a sense of entitlement, or a belief that their money and status will protect them from consequences.”


As stated above, a perceived low high school GPA was the leading reason (48%) parents said they cheated. Some 40% said they cheated “to ensure a prosperous future” for their child. The next highest reason for cheating (35%) was that they felt their child’s extracurricular activities were lacking. About a third (32%) said they did not want to leave acceptance up to chance. And 30% said their family’s social status would’ve been damaged if their child didn’t get into a certain college.


The most common form of cheating was making a sizable donation to an institution, which more than half (52%) of respondents admitted to doing. Some 73% of high-income parents said they did just that.

“This is more of a gray area than outright lying in an application or cheating on an exam,” says Scatton. “On the surface, making a donation can be explained as an altruistic move, but it becomes a lot murkier when there are strings attached, such as ensuring a child’s admission to the institution.”

The next most common form of cheating was having someone take their child’s standardized test, which 41% admitted to doing. More than a quarter (27%) of respondents admitted to listing false achievements.

The survey was conducted in April of this year and published this month. To view the entire survey results, go here.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.