Penn State Checking MBA Application Essays for Plagiarism

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on June 21, 2010

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 Business (Smeal 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? Please weigh in.

Reader Comments


June 21, 2010 4:30 PM

Cheating on exams and term papers is at epidemic levels. Many universities use Turnitin as a device to detect cheating on submitted papers but these clever students can get around any detection system. But there is another phenomenon at play. Reiss (2010) states “The universities have reacted by accommodating the cheats. When I was an undergraduate, my college expelled students caught cheating or plagiarizing. When I was an assistant professor, students caught cheating automatically flunked the course. When I was an associate professor, students caught cheating flunked the test. When I was a professor, students caught cheating threatened to sue the professor for accusing them. Nobody wanted to deal with cheating; everybody wanted to look the other way.” If MBA’s make up only 38 percent of CEO’s but 60 to 70 percent of the greedy CEO’s this implies that business schools are indeed failing Where do these executives get their cheating lessons? In colleges and universities.

Suresh Panchanathan

July 3, 2010 3:34 AM

Students who write their own essays need not worry about the same!

Having said that, it would be interesting to see how Turnitin would "eliminate self-matches' and how much data would the participating BSchool require to share as to ensure responses are not unfairly flagged!


August 2, 2010 2:42 PM


October 11, 2010 11:42 AM

good post for me.

BW's Louis Lavelle

February 3, 2011 2:14 PM

Folks, we just published a story on the results of Penn State's review of its MBA application essays, and it's a shocker. More than 2 dozen applicants were found to have plagiarized their essays. Most of them were shown the door--one person who had been accepted had the acceptance revoked. Here's the link:

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek


February 6, 2011 6:34 PM

There is absolutely NO doubt that plagiarism is wrong. But schools across the world usually asks similar questions. Prospective students are asked to represent themselves usually in one page - don't they all highlight their leadership, creative, yadi-yadi-yada qualities? In the end, how many different ways can you say "i'm the best person for this school"? I'm 50-50 about this whole idea.

Will Isaacs

October 11, 2011 7:52 PM

Give students a break and let's check their professors' dissertations for a change.

plagiarism checker

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