Marina Drade understands the academic pressures of high school.

The Laguna Beach High School senior remembers staying up late most nights during her sophomore year to finish work for Advanced Placement and honors courses, such as AP European History and honors English.

Sleep? That was a luxury mostly reserved for weekends.

"The pressure is high," said Marina.

It doesn't surprise her that some students buckle under the six hours or more of course work and take an easier route: cheating.

Until recently, the high school's policy on the issue was zero tolerance.

Students were required to put their first ethics violation, including cheating, on the "Common App" — an online application used by nearly 500 public and private universities such as Chapman University, USC and the University of San Diego.

That policy is now changing.

Principal Joanne Culverhouse recently announced that the school would allow an initial warning, which would include some type of ethics assignment. The second offense would require reporting it on the Common App.

"All kids make mistakes. Our job as educators is to help them recover from their mistakes," Culverhouse said. "The first offense is to work with them and have them understand that if they have a second offense, they don't have a choice. They have to report it on their Common App."

The new policy is an improvement, Marina said.

"I think it is a better approach than before, because it gives students a chance to get a warning before going on the Common App," she said.

Jovan Majano, a senior, said the school has been paying closer attention to students, especially during test-taking. He heard students had taken pictures of the standardized tests with their phones; now teachers require students to place their phones in plastic pouches.

"It's basically about our development, our character," he said about the policy. "If you just don't learn your lesson, then it's fair to say you ruined your chances."

Chapman University Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief Admission Officer Michael Drummy, who graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 1966, said Chapman takes ethics violations seriously during the admissions process.

Drummy said he wasn't familiar with the warning approach, calling it a "do-over" by not requiring reporting of an initial offense.

He said it might pose ethical questions for school officials and students when filling out the app, if they chose to not disclose cheating.

"In terms of how we deal with known ethics violations, we simply take them on a case-by-case basis and make judgments from a holistic perspective about the gravity of the offense and related circumstances," he said in an email. "In most instances, I will get a call or email from the offending student, self-disclosing the circumstances, or sometimes the student's guidance counselor."

Instances of ethics violations don't mean a student will automatically not be considered for college admission. Drummy recalled a student informing him of an ethics violation after admission; the admission was not revoked, due to the circumstances and the way the student handled the disclosure.

He said students are less likely to self-disclose an ethics violation to a college if they feel like their school essentially "forgave" the first infraction.

"I think changing the first offense to a more teachable opportunity was more effective to us than a punitive consequence," Culverhouse said. "Basically we want the students not to do it again. That's why were in this business — to help kids."

Sophomore Katyn Ott, 15, said cheating should be reported on the Common App.

"A lot of people get away with it," she said. "For the people that don't cheat, it's better for them. I know people do make mistakes."

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay