Turnitin Could Flush You Out

One of the big challenges of college admissions and of college work itself is writing. When you apply, you have to write application essays. When you take college courses, you have to write term papers and other assignments that require research and skill with the language. Sometimes the pressure mounts until it is almost too much for students to handle. That’s when the temptation to use the Internet for helps may become too much to resist. Thus, that nasty term “plagiarism” raises its ugly head.

Things have become more dangerous these days for aspiring plagiarists, though. Creative software engineers have created a number of programs that are becoming more and more popular to catch those who think writing is as simple as Googling their prospective topics. One such program is Turnitin (clever name, eh?).

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As Louis Lavelle posts in his Getting In blog,  it looks like at least one school is using Turnitin to analyze applicants’ statements for their MBA program:

Penn State Checking MBA Application Essays for Plagiarism

Back in January, I wrote a blog post about a new service that checks application essays for signs of plagiarism by running them through a huge database of previously submitted essays and other works. Well, it looks like at least one MBA program is using it. iParadigms, the folks who created “Turnitin for Admissions,” say that Penn State’s Smeal College of BusinessSmeal Full-Time MBA Profile) will be using the service for MBA admissions essays. (

The press release from iParadigms about Penn State’s use of the service for MBA admissions quotes Carrie Marcinkevage, the MBA admissions director for Smeal:

For the last five years we’ve been seeking a way to universally screen essays, without success. This year we did see cases of plagiarism, ironically in our “Principled Leadership” admissions essay. Our strong focus on principled leadership and the Smeal Honor Code makes it important for us to maintain integrity in the admissions process. Penn State already uses Turnitin for student assignments and sees the use of Turnitin for Admissions as a natural extension of the technology.

The original post about this new service generated a lively debate about whether it’s ethical to “plagiarize” your own essays, or recycle them for multiple applications. I think the consensus was that that it was, and the folks at Turnitin say there are safeguards in their system to eliminate “self-matches” and not flag them as possible plagiarism. There were also questions about whether schools would tell applicants they’ll be running their application essays through the Turnitin service before they’re submitted, or if this would be done on a stealth basis. I think the consensus on that one was that schools should flag their use of Turnitin to applicants.

Now that at least one MBA program has taken the plunge, what’s everybody think? Will other schools follow? Will it improve the quality of applicants accepted into MBA programs if schools have a way to determine who’s taking shortcuts on their essays? Is something like this even necessary?

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More and more professors are using software to scan their students’ papers for possible plagiarism. So, a word to the wise: Don’t cut and paste from the Web without proper attribution.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.