Preventing Plagiarism in Your
Statement of Purpose or Admissions Essay

Whether you’re writing a statement of purpose or an admissions essay as part of your application to study abroad, there are few things more intimidating than staring at a blank page. As international students work on applications, it may seem easier (and faster) to borrow ideas from others. However, whether it’s a friend’s essay or a stranger’s post on the internet, plagiarism can seriously hurt your chances of admission to the college or university of your dreams. And if you copy a friend’s work, their admission may be at risk, too.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines plagiarism as “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.” So, what should you avoid? Plagiarism can vary from paraphrasing to copy-pasting from other sources. In fact, even copying your own writing by deliberately or accidentally re-using parts of it can get you in trouble.

With thousands of applications every year, many institutions use software to check an application’s originality. As far back as 2013, over 100 colleges and universities in the United States compared student essays to a database of published writing with customized apps. At first, these tools were used for postgraduate admissions, but are now also commonly used on undergraduate applications.

An illustration of a study book.

Your essay or statement is the first chance you have to prove that you’ll bring original thought and integrity to your studies. Why are you a top candidate? What has prepared you to excel? Answer these questions in your own words, and you’ll have a one-of-a-kind story. 

Effective Application Writing

Use your application to share why you’re a strong fit for this institution, and why you’d like to study abroad with them. Your writing must be clear, but you don’t always have to use complicated language to impress the admissions committee. 

Instead, as you’re planning the writing piece, look carefully at what the university or college is asking for. Demonstrating that you understand the request, and can answer with strong, concise prose is more impressive than complex language, if the latter isn’t a style you’re comfortable writing in.

Writing an Application or Admissions Essay? 

An application or admissions essay is more common at the undergraduate level at schools in the United States. Colleges and universities use these pieces to differentiate your application from others with similar grades and test scores.

Your essay is the best opportunity to share why you’re interested in your target program, and how your studies and life lessons have made you a great candidate. It’s more personal compared to a statement of purpose, so share your goals and dreams that relate to this course!

Admissions Essays Should Include:

  • Who are you, and what qualities will you bring to this institution?
  • Why this college or university? Why this program? 
  • Past experiences, both academic and extracurricular. Share the ones that tie closely to your program, where possible.
  • What drives you? How did you get to where you are today, and where do you want to be?
  • If you have a study gap, share why it happened. Gaps won’t always hurt your chances, especially if you explain how what you did or learned during that time makes you a stronger candidate.

Illustration of woman student

Writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP)? 

SOPs focus more on where you plan to go, from your research interests to future aspirations. Conversely, admissions essays focus more on your past experiences. SOPs are more formal in tone than an admissions essay, and more commonly seen at the undergraduate and graduate levels in Australia and the United Kingdom, and postgraduate level for entry into Canadian and American institutions. 

It’s worth noting that because undergraduate degrees in the UK are three years, and dive into specialized classes right away, your UK statement of purpose (or personal statement) should be focused on the course you are taking, where US admissions essays tend to illustrate why a student is a good fit for the college or university where they’re applying.

Statements of Purpose Should Include:

  • Highlights of your academic and professional experiences. 
  • What has prepared you to excel in this course?
  • How did you become interested in this research area or course? Were there mentors or other influential people who supported your interest?
  • Share your commitment to your area of study, and what you plan to do after graduation. 

 Follow these guidelines to create a strong statement of purpose! 

Practice Makes Perfect

As you work on your application, share your writing with someone else, such as a professor, family member, or recruitment partner if you’re working with one. See where they think you can add something, or change the wording. 

Read your writing out loud to see how it flows. If you can’t finish a sentence without gasping for breath, the sentence is too long. Lastly, keep your writing short and impactful, as there are often only a few minutes to impress the application team.

Looking for ways to organize your writing or stay focused? Check out these apps to support your writing process!

An illustration of a light bulb.

Be Original

Plagiarizing your admissions essay or statement tells institutions that you’ll probably continue to copy others’ work after being admitted. Even the risk of this can hurt an institution’s reputation. Understandably, colleges and universities want to protect their reputation, so they are vigilant around preventing plagiarism.

Once you’re admitted to an international campus, your instructors may continue to check for plagiarism using tools like Copyleaks, SafeAssign, and Turnitin, so it’s important to start this chapter of your studies by establishing good habits. It may seem hard sometimes, but in the words of writer and speaker Seth Godin, you’ll get there with time and patience. He shares: 

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply a fear of bad writing. Do enough bad writing and some good writing is bound to show up.”

Best wishes on your applications, and as you start your study abroad journey!

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