Admissions Research

Plagiarism May Be Rife in Higher Ed Applications

Plagiarism appears to be endemic in applications, according to a recently published study by plagiarism prevention vendor iParadigms. The company examined 453,000 applications submitted to institutions of higher ed that were provided by an application service used by those colleges and universities. It found that 44 percent of the personal statements contained matching text and that 36 percent contained significant matching text, suggesting, according to iParadigms, plagiarism, collusion, or the use of recycled or purchased documents.

The company undertook the study in 2007, but only recently did it release the report, according to Jeff Lorton, product & business development manager and author of the report. Publication coincides with launch activities for Turnitin for Admissions, a new Web-based service introduced in December 2009 that enables admissions officers to detect plagiarism and assess the originality of student application materials to college and university programs.

"Significant amounts of matching text are problematic in documents that are short in length and normally do not contain references or share text with other documents," Lorton wrote in the report. "Personal statements attached to university applications should be the work of that applicant and help the university know more about the [prospective student]. It is safe to assume that more than 70,000 applicants that applied though this system did so with statements that may not have been their own work."

The report includes the top 100 Web sites that offer content most often duplicated in the applications that were analyzed. Nearly 38,000 matches derived from a single site.

Turnitin for Admissions is based on the same technology as Turnitin, the company's plagiarism product. The company said its newest service is useful for verifying admissions essays, personal statements, residency statements, answers to application questions, scholarship essays, reference letters, fellowship statements, and statements of purpose.

According to Lorton, the software doesn't simply match strings of words, which prevents misidentification of verbiage that would be similar across application text. "Our matching technology looks for patterns in the language," he said. "We would not match, 'I think I'm an ideal candidate for your college because,' unless the rest of the thought pattern was almost exactly the same beyond that string of words." The document analysis includes a comparison of the "fingerprint" of any submitted document against algorithms developed by the company, as well as a cross-reference against an iParadigms database containing thousands of papers and an Internet search for possible matches.

According to Lorton, "a soon to be published research study completed at an Ivy League university teaching hospital found that a substantial number of the residents plagiarized the personal statements included with their applications. This research will confirm that misconduct happens throughout the academic life of students (even after completing medical school)."

"Turnitin for Admissions was created by popular demand from our college and university customers," said Sally Elliott, chief operating officer at iParadigms. "For years, admissions deans have reported that they often receive identical personal statements from multiple applicants. Turnitin for Admissions will help them admit the best pool of candidates to their undergraduate and graduate programs."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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