Academic Integrity in American Universities

What would you consider to be “cheating” in the academic world? Copying the answers on someone’s test? Working together on an assignment with a few friends? Are these things considered cheating in your country?  Many international students are surprised when they discover the strict policies of academic integrity in American schools.

What is academic integrity? And how does it affect me as an international student?

Academic integrity generally refers to a policy of “honesty and responsibility in scholarship, which means that all academic work should result from an individual’s efforts.” ( Most American universities have strong policies regarding academic integrity. Getting caught cheating in class can result in anything from a simple warning to the failure of a class and loss of scholarship money. There may be some differences in how American universities deal with violations of academic integrity policies, and it is important to research a school’s academic integrity policy when you enroll.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined by as “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.” This should not be confused with misuse of sources, which is the improper citation of ideas used from outside sources. Plagiarism is purposeful copying while misuse of sources is an accidental error. For help with citation of sources, be sure to ask your professors for help with proper citation, or visit to learn how to cite sources for different styles of writing.

Why is it so important?

The reason American teachers, academic officials, and universities have such strong policies against plagiarism is that it defeats the academic purpose of attending classes. If you were to use another person’s work under your name, you have not gained the knowledge you would have learned through doing the assignment yourself. If the punishments for being caught cheating weren’t bad enough, failure to learn the topics of a class could result in lower test scores and a poor grade in the class.

Are there cultural differences?

There can be huge cultural differences in what is defined as cheating and plagiarism in other countries and the importance placed on academic integrity. In some countries, it is considered to be the ultimate form of flattery to use a famous person’s words and thoughts as said or written.  Many countries value interdependence and working on an assignment as a group is accepted and encouraged.  However, many Americans value independence in all things, including academic work so it is essential that international students compare and contrast the differences in educational values and internalize the American perception of academic integrity to be able to study successfully in the U.S.

What should I do next?

Read about your university’s academic integrity policy. Speak with professors about their expectations for citing sources. Continue to learn more about plagiarism and how American teachers react to it by reading some of the following articles:

Tactics used by American professors against cheating:

Is it Plagiarism?:

How to Avoid Plagiarism:

Test Your Knowledge:

Spread the word. Share this information with other students who are interested in studying in the United States (but don’t forget to cite your sources!)

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Alex is a Sociology major at Truman State University. He enjoys learning about new cultures and new people.

This is the official blog of the Truman State University Center for International Students.