No Seats for Cheats at Today's Business Schools

M.B.A. applicants who plagiarize essays are unlikely to be ethical in business.

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Green M.B.A.'s may be all the rage, but business school admissions is one department where the "reuse, repurpose, recycle" philosophy isn't welcome. In fact, any applicant tempted to the dark side with the seductive ease of cut-and-paste should reconsider, as more and more schools attempt to suss out the copy cats this application season using the web-based tool Turnitin for Admissions.

Dedicated to detecting and preventing plagiarism in the application process, Turnitin for Admissions launched in 2009 to meet the needs of admissions officials frustrated by receiving identical personal statements from multiple applicants. The service works by comparing submitted documents to an extensive database of Internet content, student and applicant essays, subscription content, and other documents to generate a "Similarity Report." Admissions officials then review the report to determine whether the matching content constitutes plagiarism.

[Read about how business schools increasingly require ethics courses.]

Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business became one of the first business schools to sign up for the service after Carrie Marcinkevage, the M.B.A. program's managing director, discovered 29 cases of plagiarized essays on the topic of—wait for it—"principled leaders" during one application cycle. A recent follow-up article on the subject of plagiarism in BusinessWeek indicates that there are now 10 to 20 business schools currently using the Turnitin service, including the University of California—Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management and Wake Forest University's Schools of Business. Turnitin spokesman Jeff Lorton notes the exact number is difficult to determine due to third-party sales and b-schools covered under their institutions' licenses.

While admissions committees may frown upon the notion of submitting the same essay on leadership to all five of your target schools, Turnitin for Admissions makes clear that it's geared specifically toward detecting documents submitted by multiple applicants—not catching so-called "self plagiarism."

[Learn how changes to the GMAT will affect you.]

In related news, the Graduate Management Admission Council shared a Q&A with the head of GMAT test security, Dan Eyob. To give you a bit of history: A few years back, GMAC discovered that 1,000 prospective M.B.A. students had visited Scoretop.com and paid $30 to get a sneak peak at live GMAT questions before taking the exam. Not long after, GMAC delivered the ultimate smackdown on would-be cheaters with the introduction of a biometric palm scan to identify testers at GMAT testing centers worldwide.

GMAC invests heavily in security, Eyob explains, because any security breach undermines the integrity of the test. "We want to make sure the person whose GMAT score is reported to schools is the person who actually took the exam and has honestly earned the GMAT score submitted for admission, and we want to make sure no one has access to any test content before sitting for the exam."

The company's No. 1 tool for staying ahead of cheaters is the palm vein reader, which allows for both "one-to-one" and "one-to-many" matching. "The palm vein reader ensures that a test taker's palm vein pattern matches the pattern provided by the same test taker either at a previous test sitting or earlier in that testing appointment," Eyob explains. "It also ensures that a palm vein pattern provided by one test taker doesn't match the palm vein pattern provided by any other test taker. We can tell before the official GMAT scores are released whether a test taker has sat for the GMAT exam under a different name."

[Check out the 10 b-schools with the highest GMAT average for full-time students.]

If GMAC has solid evidence that cheating has occurred, he says, the next step is informing schools of the cancelled scores and the reason for it—even if the cheating is discovered years after the fact.

Personally, I think integrity and ethics are key components of business in general and should certainly figure prominently throughout the application process. If you cannot refrain from lifting another's thoughts for your essays or attempting to access test content prior to sitting for the GMAT, how can you define yourself as an ethical business person? B-schools should take extraordinary steps to screen out all unethical behavior, beginning in the application process, as this helps weed out those who would become questionable business leaders in the future.