Truth, Plagiarism & the Consequences on College Applications and Essays
Mandee Heller Adler, president of International College Counselors, was quoted in The New York Times in an article titled, “If You’re Going to Be Edited, Be Sure the Result Is Still You“. She discusses the business of professionally edited college admissions essays.
Overall, the article concludes that professionals helping students with college admissions essays are performing an ethical service as long as they don’t write the college admissions essay for a student. The best college counselors allow students to just be themselves, but “a somewhat more interesting, more attractive, more eloquent” version of themselves.
As any parent or student who has worked with International College Counselors knows, what Adler says in the article is true, “she has parents sign a form, part of which establishes that her counselors will ‘review, not do’ the essay.”
“I’m not going to write an essay,” she tells the Times readers. “It’s an ethical question and it’s a line I won’t cross. Of course, it’s a fuzzy line, but I have to feel comfortable that I haven’t crossed it.”
It goes without saying that a student shouldn’t have someone else write their entire college admissions essay for them, whether it’s a friend, parent, college advisor, or a professional writer. But what about the fuzzier areas, like when a student portrays himself or herself as better than they are?
Say International College Counselors: No matter how desperately a student wants to get into a school, don’t lie on the college application. If a university finds out a student has lied on an application or essay – even a little – they’re getting rejected, almost guaranteed.
How does a school know if a student fibbed/fudged/lied? Colleges are doing research of their own. A common practice is for college admissions officers to call up high schools to verify a student’s activities and awards. College admissions officers have also called jobs, internship organizers, and places where students have performed public service.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to see if a student really has received a major award or a significant ranking, whether it’s in music or sports. Some universities like MIT have even hired private investigators to check up on student claims. While there is a chance a student won’t be caught, do they really want to risk it.
Embellishing the truth isn’t good either. If a student delivered meals to homebound senior citizens in their community, he or she shouldn’t write that they ended world hunger. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with presenting yourself in a positive way. This is where a student’s ethics (and clever adjectives) need to kick in.
Plagiarism is always wrong and schools are getting better at detecting it. Penn State, for example, is using an admissions essay service offered by Turnitin. This software service has been used by professors to check their students’ class work – with much success. College application essays are now being compared to a huge database of collected information and what’s already on the web. While most schools don’t publicize whether or not they use this detection system, at Penn State 29 students were rejected in 2010 because of plagiarism on the college application.
College essays are about the student. Who they are and not who they’re not. At International College Counselors, we believe that every student has a gem of an essay within them. What they need to do is find that kernel of truth – and remember to proofread.