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52 get the boot: Plagiarism on MBA application essays

March 8, 2012 by

GMAT BlogApplication essays are always a significant and arduous aspect of the business school admissions process.  I remember what it was like for me, and am constantly reminded of the epic task by many of my students who are in the throes of composing essays they can feel great about.

A recent story on reveals an unfortunate and alarming story about fifty-two submitted applications to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.  Through plagiarism detection software, the admissions committee learned that twelve first round applicants and forty second round applicants had plagiarized some or all of their application essays.  The school has defined a line that cannot be crossed: if 10% or more of the essay is lifted from and unattributed to an outside source, then the application will be thrown out without hesitation.

More than 100 colleges and universities are now using a software program called Turnitin to detect plagiarism on not only assignments turned in by current students, but also on essays submitted by aspirant students.  The committee at Anderson immediately disregarded the applications in violation and did not contact the offending applicants.  Getting involved in this conversation, it was suspected, would only open the door to a series of compounding lies.  Personally, I completely understand their position and came to a virtually identical one myself not long ago (see posts: Academic Integrity Matters, pt. 1 & 2).

Coincidentally, the night before I read this story I had an interesting conversation with my upstairs neighbor.  My neighbor teaches English at the university level and she told me about student of hers who was applying to business school.  This student asked my neighbor to evaluate her b-school application essay.  The essay prompt read:

“Tell us about an ethical dilemma with which you were faced, the choices you made, and the result of the situation.”

After finishing her read through, my neighbor looked at her student and told her that it sounds disingenuous—as if the student was filling all the blanks to a canned story about an ethical dilemma perhaps like a robot would.  The student replied, “Yeah, well, maybe that’s because I made the whole thing up.  I’ve never had an ethical dilemma.”  Shockingly, the student was entirely unaware of the irony of the situation.


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