The Perils of Plagiarizing Your College Application Essay


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education



9 min read

The Perils of Plagiarizing Your College Application Essay

Applying to college can be a daunting task, with many moving parts to keep in mind. Amongst the most critical is an application essay, often viewed as the most personal part of the admissions process. This essay is supposed to give admissions officers an insight into who you are as a person, your passions, and your goals. However, many students make the grave mistake of plagiarizing their application essays, which can have severe consequences. In this article, we'll discuss the perils of plagiarism in college application essays and what you can do to avoid it.

Understanding Plagiarism in College Applications

Before we get started, it's essential to understand what plagiarism is and why it is such a significant issue in college application essays. At its core, plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's ideas or words as your own, without giving them proper credit. In other words, it's cheating and is taken very seriously in academic settings.

Plagiarism is not only unethical but can also have severe consequences for students. It can lead to a loss of credibility, academic sanctions, and even expulsion from school. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it in your college application essays.

What Constitutes Plagiarism

Plagiarism can take many forms but is most commonly found in the following examples:

  • Copying and pasting content from another website or source without proper citation.
  • Paraphrasing someone else's words too closely and not giving them credit.
  • Using someone else's ideas or arguments without acknowledging them.
  • Having someone else write your essay for you and passing it off as your own work.

It is essential to understand that plagiarism is not limited to written content. It can also occur in images, graphs, and other forms of media. Therefore, it is crucial to give proper credit to the original source in all aspects of your college application.

Common Types of Plagiarism in Application Essays

The pressure to create a perfect application can lead to plagiarism in several ways. Some common types of plagiarism found in college application essays include:

  • Using essays from other applications or online sources and changing a few words to make it "yours."
  • Copying and pasting from your previous work without proper citation.
  • Copying from other people's essays or buying essays online and submitting them as your own.

It is crucial to remember that college application essays are an opportunity for you to showcase your unique perspective and personality. Admissions officers want to hear your voice and your story, not someone else's. Therefore, it is essential to avoid plagiarism and write original content that reflects who you are as a person.

Additionally, many colleges now use plagiarism detection software to ensure the authenticity of application essays. Therefore, even if you think you can get away with plagiarism, the risk of getting caught is high, and the consequences can be severe.

In conclusion, plagiarism is a serious issue in college application essays that can have severe consequences for students. It is essential to understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it in your writing. Remember, your college application essay is an opportunity to showcase your unique perspective and personality, so be authentic and write from the heart.

The consequences of plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offense that can have severe consequences, both academically and personally. It is a breach of academic integrity and can lead to numerous negative outcomes.

Rejection from Colleges and Universities

One of the most significant consequences of plagiarism is the rejection of college and university applications. Admissions officers are experienced in identifying copied content, and if they catch you plagiarizing, your application is unlikely to make it past the initial screening process. This can severely impact your academic and career prospects, as you may miss out on the opportunity to attend your desired institution.

Moreover, colleges and universities have strict plagiarism policies, and if caught, you may face disciplinary action, including failing classes or even being expelled from school.

Damage to Academic Reputation

Being caught plagiarizing can damage your academic reputation, and it may also affect your future applications to graduate school or jobs. In academic and professional settings, integrity is highly valued, and being caught plagiarizing can lead to a loss of trust and respect from peers and colleagues. This can have long-term negative impacts on your career prospects and personal life.

Legal and Financial Ramifications

Plagiarism is not only an ethical violation but also an illegal act. It can result in legal action taken against you, including copyright infringement charges. This can lead to financial issues due to loss of scholarships and grants, legal fees, and a tarnished reputation that can impact future employability.

In addition, plagiarism can also have personal consequences, such as guilt, shame, and a loss of self-esteem. It is essential to understand the severity of plagiarism and its potential consequences to avoid making such a mistake.

Therefore, it is crucial to always give credit where credit is due and to use proper citation methods to avoid plagiarism. It is better to put in the extra effort to create original content than to risk the severe consequences of plagiarism.

How Colleges Detect Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offense in academic writing and can lead to severe consequences, including expulsion from college. As a result, colleges and universities have developed various tools and techniques to detect plagiarism in students' essays and other academic works.

Plagiarism Detection Software

One of the most common tools used by college admission officers to detect plagiarism is plagiarism detection software. These programs, such as Turnitin and SafeAssign, are designed to scan essays and other academic works for any copied content from other sources. The software compares the submitted work against a vast database of existing works to identify any similarities and flag them as potential instances of plagiarism.

While plagiarism detection software is not foolproof and can sometimes produce false positives, it is still an effective tool that has helped colleges and universities to catch many instances of plagiarism.

Expert Admissions Officers

Experienced admissions officers are another valuable resource in detecting plagiarism. These professionals have read countless essays and application materials and can often spot plagiarized content simply by reviewing your application essay alongside other application materials. They have a keen eye for identifying inconsistencies in writing style, language, and tone that may suggest plagiarism.

Additionally, admissions officers may ask follow-up questions during the interview process to clarify any inconsistencies or discrepancies they may have noticed in your application materials. These questions can help them to spot potential instances of plagiarism and ensure that the application materials are entirely original.

Cross-Checking with Other Application Materials

Admissions officers have access to a wealth of information about applicants, including academic transcripts and essays from past coursework. They can use this information to cross-check your current application materials for any similarities in writing style or language that may suggest plagiarism.

For example, if you submit an essay that uses the same sentence structure and vocabulary as an essay you wrote for a previous class, it may raise red flags for the admissions officers. They may investigate further to determine if the content is original or plagiarized.

Overall, colleges and universities take plagiarism very seriously and have developed various tools and techniques to detect it. By using a combination of plagiarism detection software, expert admissions officers, and cross-checking with other application materials, they can ensure that the application materials are entirely original and free from plagiarism.

Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism in Your Essay

Avoiding plagiarism is vital. Here are some tips to help you develop an original and authentic essay:

Start Early and Plan Your Essay

The earlier you start, the better your chances of avoiding plagiarism. Starting early allows you to have enough time to research and gather information from different sources. You can also create an outline, brainstorm, and create a rough draft, which will help you to see what tasks must be done ahead of schedule. This will also give you enough time to review your work and make necessary changes.

Use Your Own Voice and Experiences

Admissions officers are interested in getting to know you as a person. Share experiences and thoughts that have shaped who you are and make it your own. Remember that this essay is your story, and no one can tell it better than you! Use your own words and avoid copying content from other sources. You can also add personal anecdotes and examples to make your essay more engaging.

Properly Cite Sources and Quotations

If you need to include information from other sources, make sure to cite them in your essay properly. Failure to do so is considered plagiarism, even in the case of unintentional plagiarism. Make use of the correct citation format for the source. This not only helps you avoid plagiarism but also shows that you have done thorough research and can back up your arguments with credible sources.

Seek Feedback from Trusted Sources

Before submitting your application essay, ask trusted sources to review your essay for content or plagiarism. Family members, friends, and teachers can provide you with constructive criticism and spot mistakes that you may have missed. You can also seek help from professional editors who can help you polish your essay and ensure that it is free from plagiarism.

Remember that plagiarism is a serious offense that can have severe consequences. It can damage your academic and professional reputation and even lead to legal issues. By following these tips, you can avoid plagiarism and create an original and authentic essay that showcases your skills and personality.


In conclusion, plagiarism is never worth the risk. The consequences can be severe and may damage your academic record for many years. You can avoid plagiarism in your college application essay by starting early, creating a plan, sharing personal experiences, properly citing sources and quotations, and getting feedback from trusted sources. Remember, it's your story, and no one can tell it better than you!

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