It can be difficult to convey in words your drive and ambition for a particular graduate study with words, and not just because you may have to do it in a language which is not your native one. The application essay puts you in the position of describing your interests and objectives while sounding unique and aiming to grab the attention of admissions directors.
While you may be tempted to snatch a few written ideas from the Internet, now is the time to get rid of that thought. Admissions committees take plagiarism – copying other people’s work – very seriously. Copying entire paragraphs and ideas which are not yours will ultimately fail your graduate application, and so avoiding plagiarism should be a priority.
Why plagiarism is not a good idea
The entire process of applying to graduate school can certainly be overwhelming. All prospective applicants eventually need to deal with time pressure, the expectations of their family and peers, and their surrounding culture. However, it is important not to take the short route of plagiarising even when it comes to small chunks of text, no matter how convenient that may seem at first. Whether through an automated tool that detects plagiarism or thanks to their trained eye, admissions directors of most international Masters programmes can easily tell if a particular essay is not original.
In an article published by the holistic admissions assessment platform Kira Talent, Carrie Marcinkevage from Smeal College of Business (US) revealed that their team has had a real issue with plagiarised essays, which they discovered accidentally. Andrew Hastings, the author of the article, recaps that while reading a student’s admissions essay, Ms Marcinkevage “noticed a familiar passage – something that she had read in a previous application […]. Not surprisingly, she found a matching article on the subject where this applicant had clearly ‘borrowed’ substantial amounts of content.”
For universities, the solution is not too complex as nowadays there are digital tools that can be used to track whether application submissions feature any plagiarism. The important lesson here is for prospective applicants to understand why such actions are not in their best interest. The purpose of the application essay is to help you showcase your unique traits and to distinguish you from all other submissions. The only way to achieve this is by writing an original text which highlights why you chose this particular Masters programme and how the programme will eventually benefit from your academic talents and character.
“Most of the other components of your application are numbers (test scores, GPA, etc.) or out of your control (letters of recommendation). Your admissions essay is your one chance to set yourself apart from all the other applicants with the same grades and the same test scores. You need to think very carefully about what it is about you that will make an academic programme take notice,” is further emphasised in a blog post at EssayEdge.
Do not submit the same essay to different schools
While copying from other essays or articles is an absolute no-go, it is also important for prospective students to take the time to draft a different application essay for each of the programmes they are applying for. This is essential for your successful admission because different schools look for different traits and characteristics in applicants.
Some institutions may put emphasis on the diversity of their student cohorts, while others may be chiefly focused on particular specialisations they offer, such as STEM. In the first case, you may benefit from describing your international exposure or the unique background you have in terms of ethnicity, education, and so on. In the second example, however, admissions directors will probably be just as interested to read about your mathematical or technical skills and qualities. “The committee wants to read what you have written from the heart about your own experiences, so that they can get to know you beyond the standard materials in the application,” notes another blog post on the EssayEdge website.
Learning to distinguish plagiarism from acceptable use of sources
Although copying other people’s work is a serious offence in the academic world, there is no need to panic over every single sentence you write and wonder whether it will be classified as plagiarism. In many situations, it would be entirely acceptable to quote another author to illustrate some argument or to use data and statistics whenever relevant. As long as the source is clearly pointed out and the quoted part is not actually half of your essay, you should be in the safe zone.
Furthermore, it is actually a great idea to take inspiration from existing essay samples published online or provided by a friend. You can learn how to structure the text as clearly as possible, see examples of how to introduce yourself or how to conclude the essay, or even learn what to avoid. Prospective Masters applicants should review how others have responded to similar essay questions and try to implement best practices while still communicating a highly personalised message. In some cases, universities themselves reveal what their admissions team will expect to read in an essay and give pointers as to how applicants can increase their chances of admission.
At the end of the day, what matters is whether the person reading your essay understands your drive and ambition for choosing a particular field of study. Do your best to convince them of your passion and stay true to your personal story!