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February 07, 2011 7:31 PM Scanning the Essay Section

By Daniel Luzer

In the latest news in gigantic, expensive, impersonal technology designed to solve a higher education problem that doesn’t really exist, colleges may soon be able to check personal statements on applications for plagiarization.

According to an article by Greg Jordan-Detamore in the Brown Daily Herald:

Many college applicants may soon find their admissions essays electronically screened for plagiarism.
The company behind Turnitin.com, the popular website used for years to screen academic writing for plagiarism, has developed a new service for college admissions essays.
Essays are submitted to Turnitin.com, which then compares them against a massive database which includes both current and archived content from the Internet, books, journals, newspapers and more, as well as over 135 million students essays previously submitted to Turnitin, according to the website. For each essay, a report is generated highlighting any text that matches anything from the database.

Turnitin is a company that with which colleges and other institutions can contract in order to find places where people have copied writing from other sources. About 55 percent of colleges use anti-plagiarism services.

Of course, scanning for duplicated content doesn’t actually mean colleges will actually read or attempt to digest nervous high school students’ carefully crafted essays. Admissions counselors at private colleges now spend an average 15 minutes on each application.

Many schools have expressed an interest in using Turnitin software to evaluate students’ personal statements. This is despite the fact that no one’s ever demonstrated that derivative essays are any sort of problem in college admissions.

Evan notorious academic con-kid Adam Wheeler appears to have written his own personal statements, all of them. There was the original one he wrote to apply to Bowdoin when he was in high school, the transfer application he wrote to Harvard when Bowdoin kicked him out, and the finial transfer application he wrote to Stanford when Harvard had enough. All of them appear to be original.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer