Whether plagiarism-detection software becomes a fixture of college admissions remains to be seen. But it’s safe to say the odds of more institutions’ embracing such a tool just increased.
On Wednesday, Hobsons, a marketing and technology company that serves colleges, and iParadigms, which provides plagiarism-detection services such as Turnitin.com, announced a new partnership that will allow colleges to bring “automated content authentication” into the admissions process. Translation: The partnership will merge Hobsons’ popular online application system, ApplyYourself, with an iParadigms service called Turnitin for Admissions.
The latter runs essays through a database of Internet content, journals, books, and previously submitted writing. It then provides a report listing the number—and type—of matches that might indicate all sorts of word-recycling. In one study Turnitin for Admissions reviewed 450,000 personal statements and found that 36 percent contained a significant amount of matching text (more than 10 percent). Those matches tended to come from Web sites offering “sample” personal statements. Other tests have found questionable similarities among 8 to 20 percent of applications.
Pennsylvania State University’s M.B.A. program was among the first to sign up for Turnitin for Admissions. More than two dozen institutions worldwide have used the service, and some colleges (as yet unnamed) have incorporated it into their review of undergraduate applicants, according to Jeff Lorton, product- and business-development manager at Turnitin for Admissions.
“A lot of jaws are dropping,” Mr. Lorton said of admissions officials surprised by the levels of matching they’ve seen. “There are people seeking an advanced degree at the most selective institutions who can’t even write their own personal statements.”
The Common Application already uses ApplyYourself, so incorporating Turnitin for Admissions would seem to be a cinch. Over the last year, Mr. Lorton has spoken to officials at the nonprofit organization about the possibility of using the service. Robert Killion, executive director of the Common Application, Inc., said on Tuesday that the organization was still in discussions with Turnitin for Admissions, but that the group might or might not choose to use the service in the future.
Some enrollment officials have raised both practical and philosophical objections to the use of such a service in the admissions process. In June, David A. Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told The Chronicle that “shadow writing”—help from teachers and parents—was a bigger problem than plagiarism on admissions essays.
And then there is the question of interpreting what a “match” means. “The opportunity to track down a false positive,” Mr. Hawkins said, “might be somewhat elusive for admissions officers who are pressed for time.”