This study's objective was to learn what student applicants to family practice residency programs in 2002 understood about National Resident Matching Program guideline violations, whether they experienced violations, and how they were affected by perceived violations. We used qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with 15 key informant students. Only six of the 15 students believed that they had experienced a violation. Only two students had experienced an actual Match guideline violation, and two more experienced potential violations. There was substantial confusion about what constituted a violation. The sources of confusion involved failure to attend Match orientation, lack of clarity in published information, confusing messages from programs, rumors and word-of mouth, and students' own personal moral values. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission violations were interpreted by some as Match violations. Some students judged programs based on threats to the integrity of the Match, whether or not they experienced actual violations. Real and potential Match violations did occur, but there is also considerable confusion about what constitutes a violation. There are opportunities to investigate violations, train students to recognize and deal with violations, and clarify actual violation definitions and for programs to avoid the real and perceived violations that affect their recruiting.