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How to detect dishonesty in college admission essays

Most college admissions officers are well aware that plagiarism is a serious threat to the integrity of the application process. Fortunately, there is college admission software to help institutions sift through the avalanche of essays they receive from applicants.

A completely unoriginal essay obviously reflects poorly on a prospective student’s character, but often these “essays” are the easiest to detect. What about accidental plagiarism? A slightly incorrect citation or an instance of text similarity is not always a sign of misconduct, and colleges might miss out on highly qualified applicants if they are not aware of the nuances of verifying the originality of written work.

Ultimately, penalties for plagiarism—whether intentional, accidental, or technical—will depend on a specific institution’s policies. Regardless, those institutions could benefit from a more efficient and nuanced way to assess and score the presence of textual matches in college admission essays.

Not every similarity is plagiarism

Sometimes similarities are actually indicative of academic rigor. An applicant attempting to cite a study or paper is typically trying to support their ideas beyond emotional appeals. Unfortunately, improper citation formatting might occur, as applicants may use different formats for citations or parenthetical quotations. To disqualify these applicants would be hasty and, in many cases, uncalled for.

It is understandable why admissions staff might disqualify these applicants. When faced with an overflow of essays, it can become extremely tedious to manually explore the degree of similarity to come to a conclusion about the integrity of the essay. You may not have the time, resources, or energy to handle potential plagiarism on a case-by-case basis.

Rethink how to combat plagiarism

College admissions departments need a way to efficiently scan essays that saves time while also ensuring that promising applicants aren’t being routinely disqualified. SimCheck, a robust text similarity detection tool, integrates seamlessly with DreamApply and saves you time and effort by giving a more detailed view of any detected similarities.

Plagiarism is complex and comes in many forms. It can be intentional or unintentional. There are many well-known formats writers use to reference outside information and integrate it into their essays without stealing it. This is referred to as attribution. College applicants need to attribute all external sources they use in their essays unless it is common knowledge or their own ideas and analysis. They have a few options when using external sources and how they choose to attribute or give credit to the source. For example, they may use a direct quote or a parenthetical phrase with the source of the information in parenthesis. Some institutions prefer footnotes or a Works Cited page.

This is why even gifted students might make minor formatting errors in essays that plagiarism detection software will flag. DreamApply’s client institutions need a more robust solution that will provide a deeper insight into similarities against existing texts.

A more granular view of textual similarities

overall similarityAs usual, applicants upload their application materials directly into DreamApply. Rather than requiring faculty to copy and paste documents into a similarity checker, SimCheck automates the process. SimCheck automatically scans the documents for text similarities, comparing the submissions against the database of over 91 billion archived and current web pages.

Once the scan is complete, SimCheck presents any detected similarities in a detailed report. Initially, you are presented with a color-coded text matches and a similarity percentage indicator. This allows you to quickly understand the level of similarity and the degree to which this similarity merits further exploration.

Should you decide to investigate further, SimCheck generates a detailed similarity report, allowing you access to the documents with which the matches were detected. This is where your own discernment comes in. Admissions staff can read the documents to determine if the match is simply due to error or coincidence or if it constitutes a true case of misconduct.

SimCheck even shows you the percentage match with each source, making it simpler to know if the similarity comes from extensive references or from a single source.

SimCheck allows you to exclude certain documents from comparisons to get a more accurate similarity report based on your custom requirements. If there is a specific paper or webpage that can be used in a justifiable and academically honest way, you can simply add it to the list of exclusions. This maximizes the usefulness of SimCheck’s reports.

Time to focus on substance rather than similarity

similarity score

You should have more time to focus on the substance of the college admission essay rather than chasing down every citation discrepancy. Ultimately, admissions professionals should be more interested in a student’s ideas and how they express them rather than a citation error.

A student that clearly has no idea how to cite outside information in a college essay is indeed a red flag; however, some minor citation errors are not indicative of academic dishonesty—or of low aptitude.

SimCheck offers DreamApply users a guided tour of the similarity checker to ensure your understanding of its features. When you initially open the Originality Check Viewer, SimCheck launches a series of easy-to-grasp instructions and explanations, teaching the user how to navigate the application effectively. This helps avoid the need for excessive IT assistance and ensures that any member of the admissions team is immediately able to take full advantage of the software.

The DreamApply difference

The introduction of college admission software has brought with it a host of benefits for admissions staff. DreamApply aims to harness these advances to make your process easier than ever. Adding SimCheck to our existing tools is just another way DreamApply boosts the ease of admissions operation. By expanding your comparison abilities and lessening your workload, SimCheck ensures the integrity of your applicants without adding to your stress.

SimCheck’s integration with DreamApply means your admissions workflow can remain basically the same, with the added feature of an easy-to-interpret similarity score delivered directly to you. Contact DreamApply team today to request a demo of SimCheck for your institution.

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