When college applicants plagiarize, Turnitin can spot them

Turnitin’s freshman screening could rise sharply, however, if the service is adopted by Common Application, the online service used by 456 college admissions offices. Rob Killion, Common Application’s executive director, said there is “a very real chance” it will add Turnitin in 2013.

Among current Turnitin for Admissions users are some graduate schools at Johns Hopkins, Brandeis, Northeastern, and Iowa State. They pay annual fees that start at $1,500 and rise depending on volume, averaging about a dollar per application, Lorton said. About half the schools explicitly tell applicants about the detection, while others warn more vaguely.

Before adding the tool, staffers at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business two years ago discovered 29 essays about “principled leadership” that contained material lifted from the web, said Carrie Marcinkevage, the MBA program’s managing director. Except for a few borderline cases, those graduate school applications were denied.

Since then, Turnitin has helped find plagiarism rates of between 3 percent and 5 percent, Marcinkevage said, adding that the technology is worthwhile because it “covers a lot more ground” than humans can.

Dominican University of California, in San Rafael, recently began using Turnitin in its graduate programs. Applicants sometimes “resort to whatever means possible to get an edge. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s human nature,” graduate admissions director Larry Schwartz said.

A few suspicious reports are being investigated, and most suspected plagiarists will be given “the benefit of the doubt” and a chance to submit a second essay for scrutiny, Schwartz said.

At UCLA Anderson, one recent applicant didn’t search far for essay material. He stole verbatim from the school’s website in citing “exceptional academic preparation, a cooperative and congenial student culture, and access to a thriving business community.”

If plagiarists like that are denied admissions, future business leaders might include fewer unethical careerists, said UCLA Anderson’s Ainslie.

“If they are going to do that,” he said, “they are going to do it in every aspect of their lives.”

Copyright (c) 2012, the Los Angeles Times. Visit the Los Angeles Times online at www.latimes.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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