It’s no secret that some B-school applicants cheat. In 2012, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rejected 52 aspiring MBAs for application plagiarism. A year later, Pennsylvania State’s Smeal College of Business turned away 48 applicants for the same reason. At the time, Smeal’s MBA Managing Director Carrie Marcinkevage said 10% of the 481 Round 1 and Round 2 applicants plagiarized their application essays. At Anderson, the dean of the MBA program at the time, Andrew Ainslie, predicted the number of plagiarists was much lower — around 1% to 2%.
Both schools turned to Oakland, California-based Turnitin, a plagiarism detection software company. According to research published today (June 6), Anderson and Smeal are still in the minority of schools taking measures to catch cheaters. The research, conducted by Kira Academic, a Toronto-based admissions interview video platform, surveyed admissions officials at 50 North American business schools, including Smeal. Of the schools surveyed, only 17% reported using some sort of plagiarism identification software.
According to the study, Kira found that the vast majority of admissions offices believe plagiarism occurs in MBA applications, but few are doing anything about it. Some 84% of respondents say admissions plagiarism and fraud, in general, is a problem — yet only 30% report having a “process in place to protect and prevent” it from occurring. Even fewer (24%) say they have a set definition within their admissions offices for what constitutes fraud.
What’s more, of the 70% of admissions offices that don’t have any sort of process in place to address plagiarism and fraud, only one in five plan to implement one. This discrepancy is likely because of the fact that only half of the respondents believe plagiarism is a problem in their school’s applicant pools. Meanwhile, 88% of the admission officials believe it’s happening at other business schools.
ADMISSIONS OFFICES HAVE FOSTERED A CULTURE OF FRAUD DENIAL AND COMPLACENCY, RESEARCHER SAYS
Andrew Hastings, Kira Academic’s research director, says over the two years he and his team have been researching fraud, one theme continues to arise. “It’s a strong word, but the word would be ‘denial,'” Hastings says on a phone call with Poets&Quants. Kira’s research, he says, reveals at least a third of the surveyed respondents believe fraud is happening — just not at their schools. “I can assure you that’s not the case,” Hastings continues. And the schools aren’t just in denial — he even sees some defensiveness. “It reflects on their school’s reputation,” Hastings explains. “And as we know, schools are very much into protecting their reputation. Reputation is almost everything in higher education.”
Hastings believes the denial and defensiveness has created a culture of complacency — illustrated by the study’s findings that few schools are employing plagiarism identification software. “As a result, nothing is getting done about it,” Hastings says. “We know that very few of them actually have a process in place to deal with fraud.”
The problem got some attention late last year when Fortune reported that only 40 business schools had adopted some sort of anti-cheating software, among them Smeal College, UCLA’s Anderson School, and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
CHINESE AND ELITE STUDENTS MOST LIKELY TO FAKE THEIR APPLICATION MATERIALS
The influx in Chinese applications is a major contributor to the problem, Hastings says. “We know that applications from students in China is growing significantly,” says Hastings. “We know that Chinese applicants represent one-third of international applicants in the U.S. And we know that business and management is the number-one choice of Chinese applicants studying in the U.S.”
Referencing a 2011 New York Timesarticle, Hastings says 90% of Chinese applicants to U.S. colleges and universities admitted submitting false recommendations. What’s more, research has shown that 70% of the same population admitted to not writing their own personal essays, and half falsified school transcripts. “When you see these, frankly, staggeringly high numbers and you see enrollment from this country is only going up significantly every year, I’d say the issue is growing. It has to,” Hastings says. “And if you look at (the fact that) only 17% of the schools are addressing it, that’s a huge problem. It’s a huge gap.”
It’s not only international applicants faking application materials. Hastings says he did his own investigating and hired a service to write some personal statements. During the process he asked the company what type of applicants use its services. “I was almost certain I was going to hear international applicants or students who have low GMAT scores and poor communication skills. But it was the opposite,” he explains. “The consultant said, ‘It’s mainly top applicants using us.'” Top applicants are obviously competing for spots at elite schools and are more willing to pay for polished essays, Hastings says. “You would think it would be the opposite case, but actually it’s these top applicants who are doing this.”
NEW FRAUD PROTECTION BEING IMPLEMENTED AT SCHOOLS
Hastings took his investigation a step further and asked the admissions team at Smeal College to run his plagiarized essay through Turnitin. “It came through with flying colors,” he recalls. “I didn’t even write this essay, but I would have gotten through a traditional system.” One prominent MBA admissions consultant tells Poets&Quants that some schools soon will begin implementing more advanced fraud protection software. On a panel earlier this year, the consultant said adcoms from Columbia Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management claimed to either be in the process of implementing or have already implemented a program called Slate.
A product of Technolutions, Slate was created more than a decade ago exclusively for higher education admissions offices, and a few MBA programs have been using the software for a few years. Slate’s differentiator is the ability to track document metadata — unseen information and data attached to electronic text files. According to Technolutions’ website, Slate can automatically flag statistically significant metadata similarities. For example, if an applicant wrote his or her recommendation letters and then sent them to their recommenders to submit on their behalf, the software could find statistical similarities in the applicant’s personal essays and recommendation letters — essentially, that they came from the same place.
According to the admissions consultant who spoke to Poets&Quants, Columbia has already implemented Slate. Columbia Admissions Director Amanda Carlson has so far been unable to comment. A spokesperson from Tuck said the school has not yet used the software for an admissions cycle and administrators are still discussing how exactly to use the software.
PLAGIARISM STEMMING FROM ADMISSIONS CONSULTANTS?
Interestingly, 62% of the respondents in the Kira study believe applicant plagiarism is occurring as a result of MBA admissions consultants. In October, Hastings blogged about his experience with a “black market admissions consultant.” For $160, Hastings was able to purchase a 500-word personal statement. A simple Google search reveals many companies that will happily do the same. As Hastings explains in his post, some consultants will simply edit a personal essay, while others will actually write them for applicants.
Betsy Massar of Master Admissions says it’s “unfortunate that admissions officers point the finger at consultants,” noting there is a stark contrast between reputable consultants like herself and others and bogus pay-for-essay sites. “Consultants that I know, including my colleagues at the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), abide by principles that expressly prohibit writing essays for students,” Massar says. “In fact, if any potential client suggests that is what they are looking for, all the professionals I know would run in the other direction.”
Hastings agrees that the professional and established consultants of AIGAC are not the consultants he and MBA admissions offices are concerned about. It’s the plethora of options Massar referenced as “We-write-MBA-essays-for-you.com” types of sites. “This has not been lost on admissions teams. They are acutely aware of this issue,” Hastings says, referencing open discussions he has seen of such pay-for-recommendation and essay sites on MBA admissions forums like GMATClub. “Those are not the ones they are pointing fingers at, those that respect the process,” he continues. “They are talking about the others, of which there are many — a quick Google search will reveal a seemingly endless supply of them.”
To crack down on plagiarism and fraud, Hastings says interviewing is a simple solution. “Fraud is a complex problem with a very simple solution,” he says. “And that solution is interviews.” Hastings suggests any sort of interview, whether by phone or in person. “It’s much harder to cheat your way through an interview than have someone write your essay.”
DON’T MISS: IS CHEATING UP IN BUSINESS SCHOOLS?
Penn State’s Smeal College of Business said it has rejected 48 applicants for plagiarized essays in the first two rounds of its admissions cycle, while UCLA’s Anderson School of Management reported it has turned down 15 MBA candidates from its round one applicant pool.
The plagiarists were uncovered by the schools using software that scans admission essays and runs they through a database of content to single out similarities. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which disclosed the rejections at Penn State and UCLA yesterday (Jan. 7), also reported that another 50 “potential” cases of plagiarism have been “flagged” at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.
What makes these latest disclosures so surprising is that both Smeal and Anderson had already made public the fact that they are using the Turnitin for Admissions software to detect applicants who copy part of their essays from other existing work. Indeed, both schools had publicly released the number of applicants who have been rejected for such transgressions in earlier years.
UCLA’S ANDERSON FOUND 52 APPLICANTS WHO LIFTED PASSAGES FOR THEIR ESSAYS IN ROUNDS ONE AND TWO LAST YEAR
Last year, as reported by Poets&Quants, Anderson detected 12 plagiarists in its first round and 40 more in the second round. The school rejected all 52 applicants. School officials at Anderson decided to begin using the anti-plagiarism software due to the increased use of admission consultants and essay editing services for MBA candidates. “We’ve had a concern for awhile that there has been an increasing use of these so-called consultants who help applicants with their applications,” said Andrew Ainslie, senior associate dean for the full-time MBA program, “Many of these consultants are ethical and do the right thing. But quite a few of them either write the essays themselves or pull them out of catalogs.”
At Smeal, MBA Managing Director Carrie Marcinkevage told BusinessWeek that 10% of the 481 people who applied in the first and second rounds had plagiarized essays, up from 8% for the full admissions cycle last year. “Many of the new cases are international applicants from East Asian countries, where borrowing from published sources without attribution is not considered wrong, Marcinkevage says. The increase comes despite a disclosure on the Smeal website notifying applicants that their essays will be reviewed for plagiarism,” reported BusinessWeek.
Anderson told BusinessWeek it expects the number of applicants rejected for plagiarism to hit 70 by the end of the third and final round on April 17. Most candidates lifted passages from essay websites, while others copied things from Wikipedia and Bloomberg Businessweek. One applicant lifted half of his “goals” essay from samples available online. Last year, another plagiarized 85% of an essay, without changing the gender of the pronouns, according to the school.
PENN STATE’S SMEAL WAS AMONG THE FIRST BUSINESS SCHOOLS TO USE THE ANTI-PLAGIARISM SOFTWARE
Two years ago, Penn State was among the first business schools to use the software after its admissions director for the Smeal School noticed that a required essay on the connections between principled leadership and business seemed remarkably similar to one she had already read. When then admissions director Marcinkevage reportedly pulled out the other essay and put them side by side, she discovered that both applicants had used the exact same sentence, word for word
The discovery prompted her admissions staff to comb through all the pending applications for Smeal’s 2010 admissions season. The upshot: some 29 cases of plagiarism were found, including those among applicants who had already been admitted or invited for an admissions interview. In some cases, the applicants lifted entire paragraphs, including an essay written by a dean of another business school.
Last year, Anderson rejected its applicants without directly accusing them of plagiarism, prompting concern by some that applicants could be tossed out of the pool on a “false positive” result from the software. “On false positives, we verify by hand the exact sources and ensure that the material has truly been plagiarized,” said Ainsle. “Turnitin’s tools are very user-friendly and allows us to look at the source material copied as well as the applicant’s material. Sometimes, it’s merely an issue of a well-known saying, a cliche or a quotation being used in both locations, in which case we do not treat it as plagiarism. Furthermore, if only one or two sentences are the same, we give the applicant the benefit of the doubt. What concerns us is if entire paragraphs–or even worse, entire essays–have been lifted. These are the people excluded from further consideration.”
DON’T MISS: UCLA REJECTS 52 MBA APPLICANTS FOR PLAGIARISM