Sunday, February 06, 2011

Praise the Lord and pass the application

The second short essay question on the admissions application for a master’s degree in education reads: “What do you see in your life that might indicate that you are walking with the Lord?” This is preceded by a question asking you to explain how you came to know Jesus as your savior as well as the scriptural basis for your salvation.

The private college based in the Pacific Northwest makes it clear on its application that it expects its students to adhere to a “lifestyle commitment” which holds, among other things, that “learning and the Christian faith are inseparable.” On the online application, students are asked to check off a box that indicates their agreement to abide by the “lifestyle commitment.”

As applications go, this one is pretty clear in its expectations of applicants.

A reader from Portland, Ore., believes that this college “offers what seems to be the perfect program” for her. She already has a master’s degree in English, but believes that more career opportunities will open up for her if she adds a graduate degree in education. She especially likes this program because it offers a specialty in curriculum design.

The problem is that she finds the religious questions posed on the application “rather intrusive.”

“Even if I were not an atheist,” she writes, “I would feel uncomfortable talking about my relationship with God.” She does write that she would gladly take any religion courses that might be required if she is admitted. What’s more, the program is offered completely online so she won’t have to move or even commute to classes.

There are two other graduate programs in my reader’s area, neither of which requires answers to such questions on the application. But neither is as convenient an option as the school that asks the religious questions.

“Is it unethical to lie on these essays?” she asks. “I certainly know enough about religion to create these responses, but the thought of that much lying is off-putting,” she writes, telling me that she grew up in the South surrounded by Baptists, the religion with which this college is affiliated.

The fact that the thought of “that much lying” is off-putting should give my reader the clue that something is wrong for even contemplating faking a story about her strong relationship with God to get into a convenient master’s program.

Even if there were no other options available in her area, lying on the application in an effort to gain admission would not be justified. Little good comes from any relationship that begins with a lie. A relationship to a graduate school is no exception.

If she’s honest on the application about her atheism, it’s very likely she will not be admitted. But such knowledge still doesn’t justify lying.

The right thing is for my reader to find a graduate program that matches her needs whose culture does not prohibit her from telling the truth about herself. She should not lie about her beliefs to get into a program that’s more convenient for her.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to



Patrick Bouvier Fitzgerald Burris, Charlotte, NC said...

The college’s target audience and expectations are clearly specified in its mission statement.

Although her aspirations are admirable and commendable, it’s unethical for her to matriculate, particularly because her beliefs differ from the organization offering the graduate program that she desires.

Enrollment at one of the other two graduate schools, lacking faith based and lifestyle expectations is the appropriate and ethical thing to do.

yawningdog said...

Why does she just write what her current beliefs are, finishing with what she wants from the school. It can't hurt to try to apply and to apply honestly.

Bill Jacobson said...

Throwing us softballs, Jeffrey? How often is the ethical answer ever that she should deceive another for her own selfish ends?

It sounds that although the program may be perfect for her, she definitely does not sound perfect for them. If she is uncomfortable with the application questions, God help her with the course requirements. Keep in mind that if she doesn't live the lifestyle requirements or her deception in applying is discovered, she can be dismissed at any point... Better that it happen now before she has spent her tuition...

If she really has questions on whether she should lie, they teach the answer to that question at church!

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

The other three comments were as correct as mine will be! This is not only a self-evident solution, of course it would be unethical to lie on the application, why do people think they can break a guideline laid down by the college just because to them its guidelines seem intrusive, but it is also an example of the liberal segment of our society nowadays - that your own beliefs are sacrosanct and you can demand, by using any subterfuge possible, to get around a clear and reasonable demand of the college.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Ken Mattsson said...

While I agree with the bulk of what's been stated before, I think an important point is that they college is very clear of the type of instruction that they will be giving, and that it is biased in a why that will not be comfortable with this student. The organization has been very clear as to what they are offering (whether you agree with the premise or not) and it's not going to be different if she gets into the program. They are obviously weeding people that they don't think will fit in their culture.

Regardless of ethics, this is an obviously bad choice for her to pursue. I'm sure there are other programs that will be a better fit.