UCLA Rejects 52 MBA Applicants

Senior Associate Dean Andrew Ainslie found wholesale copying

UCLA’s Anderson School of Management said that it has rejected 52 MBA applicants in the school’s first and second admission rounds for plagiarizing their MBA application essays. In an interview with PoetsandQuants, Senior Associate Dean Andrew Ainslie said the school’s admission office detected 12 plagiarists in its first round and 40 more in the second round.

Rather than confront the applicants with the issue, the school chose to simply ding them. “We just reject it,” Ainslie told P&Q. “I don’t want to enter that conversation. All I would be doing is to allow them to compound one lie with another lie. I’m sure they’ll have stories for us.”

This is the first year the Anderson School began checking essay questions with anti-plagiarism software from a company called Turnitin. The software compares applicant essays to an archive of other writings. More than 100 colleges and universities are now using the software, including such graduate schools as Johns Hopkins, Brandeis, Northeastern and Iowa State. Staffers at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business two years ago discovered 29 essays about “principled leadership” that contained material lifted from the Web.


At Anderson, Ainslie said, the school decided to begin using the software due to the increased use of admission consultants and essay editing services for MBA candidates. “We’ve had a concern for awhile that there has been an increasing use of these so-called consultants who help applicants with their applications,” he added. “Many of these consultants are ethical and do the right thing. But quite a few of them either write the essays themselves or pull them out of catalogs.

“So our initial hypothesis was that the same essays would show up and be recycled by the consultants. What we actually found is just wholesale copying of massive chunks of stuff from websites or taking it out of articles or Wikipedia. Essentially, they (some MBA applicants) are just plagiarizing it. Our initial hypothesis is probably going to take longer to prove out. One of the great things Turnitin does is that once you put a document in, it becomes part of its database. After a few years, I think we might spot repeated use of these essays.”


Asked if there was a dividing line beyond which an applicant would be immediately rejected for admission, Ainslie said “we’re drawing a pretty conservative line. A minimum of 10% has to be plagiarized. If someone takes six lines out of a Tennyson poem and attributes it to Tennyson, we’re happy with that. But if 10% or more of the essay is plagiarized and not attributed, we’re turning down the applicant.”

So far, added Ainslie, between 1% and 2% of the applicant pool has been found to plagiarize material in their essays–well below the 4% to 5% rate at some undergraduate institutions that have used the software. “So as bad as it sounds, it looks like we’re seeing less of this,” he said. “We’re making it a lot harder for people to pass off someone else’s intellectual property as their own. One of the strongest academic values we have is the value of intellectual property. The software gives us a real ability to detect violations of intellectual property.”

In one case, Anderson found an applicant who had taken 85% of his essay straight out of another source. All the applicant did to adjust the essay was to change the name of a country named in the essay.

Anderson’s new admission checking policy came to light yesterday (Jan. 31) in an article in The Los Angeles Times which reported on the first 12 candidates turned down in the first round. The reporting for the story apparently was completed before Anderson toted up its numbers for the second round.

“The more we can nip unethical behavior in the bud, the better,” Ainslie told the Times. “It seems to us nobody ought to be able to buy their way into a business school.”

In Anderson’s first review of essays from potential MBA candidates this year, “Turnitin found significant plagiarism — beyond borrowing a phrase here and there — in a dozen of the 870 applications, Ainslie said. All 12 were rejected.”


One Anderson applicant apparently copied parts of a 2003 essay that had been written for Boston University’s MBA program and published on BusinessWeek’s website. The BU applicant wrote: “I have worked for organizations in which the culture has been open and nurturing, and for others that have been elitist. In the latter case, arrogance becomes pervasive, straining external partnerships.”

The Anderson MBA candidate used those identical words in an application essay describing his father. Wrote the applicant: He “worked for organizations in which the culture has been open and nurturing, and for others that have been elitist. In the latter case, arrogance becomes pervasive, straining external partnerships.”

According to the article, another Anderson applicant stole verbatim from the school’s website in citing “exceptional academic preparation, a cooperative and congenial student culture, and access to a thriving business community.”

Both candidates were among the dozen rejected by Anderson.

If plagiarists like that are denied admissions, future business leaders may include fewer unethical careerists, Ainslie told the newspaper. “If they are going to do that,” he said, “they are going to do it in every aspect of their lives.”


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