dictionary and thesaurus

Sadly, I can't remember who suggested we add "honor code" to our ever-growing Glossary of Confusing Words (if it was you, let me know so I can give you credit!), but it's a good one.

If you're not familiar with our Glossary of Confusing Words, it's our attempt to clarify and define all the words about American education that can be confusing to international students. The words are entirely submitted by YOU, and there's a form at the bottom of this article to submit any words you want us to add.

What's an Honor Code?

Not every university has an honor code, but for those that do, the honor code is a set of principles that all students pledge to uphold.  Honor codes usually deal with academic integrity, but some extend to personal values as well, like respect and proper behavior.

Georgetown University students, for example, agree to the following pledge when they enroll at the university:

In pursuit of the high ideals and rigorous standards of academic life I commit myself to respect and to uphold the Georgetown University honor system:
To be honest in every academic endeavor, and
To conduct myself honorably, as a responsible member of the Georgetown community as we live and work together.

Princeton University students write and sign this statement at the end of every single exam they take:

I pledge my honor that I have not violated the honor code during this examination.

Many honor codes are peer-enforced, which means students are expected to report any honor code violations they see, and students are included on the committee that adjudicates cases of alleged violations. Each university has a different system for assessing alleged violations of the honor code, but there is always a penalty for breaking the pledge -  often suspension, and sometimes expulsion.

Staying on the right side of the honor code means never giving or receiving improper assistance, whether it's bringing notes into a closed-book exam or asking a friend to write a paper, and never trying to gain an unfair advantage, like getting the test questions in advance.

It also means steering clear of plagiarism.  Any work you submit must be 100% your own, and any information from outside sources must be clearly cited.  Direct quotes from an outside source should always be in quotation marks, no matter how small the quote, and any information you've paraphrased needs to be cited in a footnote or in the text.  This requirement even extends to previous papers you've written - if you reuse your own material without citing it, that's called self-plagiarism and it's still wrong.

Here's how Princeton tells students to avoid accidentally violating the Honor Code through plagiarism:

An important general rule is this: if you are unsure whether or not to acknowledge a source, always err on the side of caution and completeness by citing rather than not citing.

If a university doesn't have an honor code, it doesn't mean cheating and plagiarism are okay.  Those universities will still have academic codes of conduct that govern student behavior, which prohibit cheating and plagiarism just like an honor code does. So what's the point of an honor code? According to an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor and a student from Hampden-Sydney College, which operates on an honor code system, an honor code can create a culture that "reinforces honesty."

We find little evidence of cheating, even when professors work in their offices during exams. Indeed, you have not seen an honor code at work until you have seen a show of hands for those who did not do the reading for today's class turn out to be completely accurate.

"It is far easier to maintain a culture of integrity than it is to build one," they write.

Did you know our Glossary of Confusing Words is entirely made up of words submitted by you? So share words that have confused you or that might confuse others about studying in the U.S. and we'll add them to our growing list! Leave your suggestions in the comments, or use the form below.