Professors have been using software to check for plagiarized essays for years, but now the same might be done for admissions essays.
Turnitin.com was created under the company iParadigms by a group of University of California, Berkeley doctoral students aiming to find plagiarized essays in the classroom.
Twelve years later, the program is being adapted for admissions essays. According to Turnitin Product and Business Development Manager Jeff Lorton, when the Turnitin team started checking for matches in admissions essays they “found a large amount of suspect documents.”
Lorton acknowledges that some matches are to be expected since personal statements share similar qualities.
“We’ll get matches when someone uses, say, an Emerson quote,” he said, but explained that the program compiles a report of significant matches and shows exactly which portions are similar and where they match.
“If you get a match with a university website displaying example essays, then that is something that shouldn’t be matching,” he said
Last spring, when the program was in its beta form, Rosalind Segal and Jeffrey Gelfand from the Harvard University Medical School noticed two residency applications had identical paragraphs, prompting them to apply for a beta license with Turnitin.
Their findings and other studies were published this summer, with the result that significant numbers of admissions essays are plagiarized — approximately one in 20 essays.
According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, 14 percent of international students’ essays are plagiarized, while only two percent of American essays are plagiarized.
Lorton said that schools as exclusive as Penn “really care about the essay” and that this form of plagiarism is a serious problem.
The program is currently being used by a few institutions this year, but “it will really start to take off for the admission cycle of the class of 2016,” Lorton said.
By that time, he expects four to five hundred universities to be using the software as well as several medical associations and other similar organizations.
“Many students look for short cuts or are not great writers so they ‘buy’ essays or copy … With more than 30,000 applicants at some schools I would not be surprised if a good sized percentage plagiarized,” Michele Hernandez, president of Hernandez Consulting, wrote in an e-mail.
Hernandez explained that one of the obstacles the program could present would be that it is time consuming to go through reports of matches for each essay, but that if it were easy, institutions should definitely use the product.
“Academic integrity should be one of the prime considerations,” she said.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that he has heard about the program, but that Penn has no current plans to start using it.
“Who’s writing an essay or polishing an essay has always been an issue,” he said, but feels that there are ways to detect this sort of plagiarizing for now.
“If they’re not a strong student, the gap between what is being produced in their essays and their academic portfolio is out of line, and we’re going to see that,” he said. Since admissions are looking for a 17- or 18-year-old voice, a more mature one will shine through.
“A more authentic, appealing, honest and compelling approach is what we’re hearing from that 17- or 18-year-old voice,” he said, and a more mature one will come across as an essay written by someone who “says what we want to hear.”Comments powered by Disqus
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