The UCAS application is the main part of the application process to university in the UK. It takes a lot of time, effort and thought to make the best application you can. This includes everything from carefully filling out personal details, to researching and deciding on the best course and universities for you, to the dreaded personal statement. It can be really daunting to try and show universities why they should accept you in so few lines.
Many students read example personal statements, perhaps from school or older siblings, to help them get an idea of what to write. However, it is really important that your own personal statement is original – both to stand out to universities, and to avoid plagiarism. But what exactly counts as plagiarism? And what is the UCAS policy on it?
UCAS does indeed scan every single personal statement for plagiarism using a service known as Copycatch. The Copycatch software works by scanning every personal statement against previous personal statements that have been submitted, to check for similarities. If more than 30% of a personal statement is regarded as similar, this would be flagged as a potential plagiarism issue. This may even result in the whole application being withdrawn.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about plagiarism in a UCAS application, including how it is checked and what happens if you are found to have plagiarised.
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Does UCAS check for plagiarism?
Yes, UCAS does check your application for plagiarism, specifically, the personal statement.
Plagiarism involves copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. The personal statement is intended so you can tell universities about your unique skills and experiences which make you as an individual suitable for this course.
Therefore, plagiarism, as well as being morally wrong, defeats the purpose of the personal statement in the first place! This is why UCAS has a strict policy to make sure any plagiarism is detected.
UCAS uses a service called Copycatch to scan personal statements, comparing them to previous personal statements from their archive. You can read more about how, exactly, this process works in this document from the UCAS website.
It is worth being aware that, as of 2023, there is discussion about replacing the personal statement with a set of questions for future application cycles. You can read more about this on this page of the UCAS website.
However, it is likely that whatever form the personal statement takes, it will still be scanned for plagiarism. It is really important that UCAS makes sure students don’t get an unfair advantage by copying good personal statements or using other people’s words as their own.
What does UCAS check for plagiarism?
There are lots of different parts to the UCAS application. However, it is only the personal statement that is scanned for plagiarism.
Of course, they don’t need to scan things like your name and course choice for plagiarism – you can’t steal these and pass them off as your own! The other part of the application that people sometimes wonder about is the teacher reference.
The reference is often a lesser-known part of the application, as students are not really involved in it. It is generally written by your teacher and is less important to universities than your personal statement. In fact, most students never see their references – have a look at this article from Think Student for more.
In short, UCAS does not scan the teacher reference for plagiarism. There are a few reasons for this. For instance, teachers are generally writing similar things about the majority of students. Additionally, the universities already know this isn’t the student talking about their own experiences – they don’t need a plagiarism checker to confirm.
What counts as plagiarism in a UCAS application?
It can be hard for software to tell between someone who is actually copying another personal statement, and someone who is just using common words and phrases.
UCAS regards 30% or more of a personal statement being flagged up as similar as a potential plagiarism issue, according to this document from their website. This is a relatively high percentage, so it is likely that anything showing up on these checks is intentional, rather than a few similar words.
Additionally, the software does not include common words like ‘and’ or ‘the’ in their checks, as well as common personal statement phrases like ‘Duke of Edinburgh’. This makes it even more likely that the statements that are flagged up are actually cause for concern, not just accidental.
Another worry that some people may have is if they have applied through UCAS before. Generally speaking, you can reuse your personal statement – which you can read more about in this article from Think Student.
This isn’t something to worry about. If you are applying with the same name, you won’t be checked against your previous applications, so you won’t be pulled up for plagiarism – you can’t plagiarise from yourself.
If you have changed your name since your last application and are using the same or a similar personal statement, it is worth getting in contact with UCAS to make sure they are aware of this.
Ideally, do this before you send off your application. You don’t want to wait until you have been flagged for plagiarism, because the software doesn’t know it is the same person applying as before.
How do you make sure you don’t accidentally plagiarise in your UCAS application?
Some students get worried that they will accidentally plagiarise, by using common phrases, or unconsciously copying a nice sentence they read in a friend’s statement.
This isn’t something to be concerned about. As we’ve discussed, it is highly unlikely that the service will flag up anything that is just due to accidental similarity.
You won’t get ‘caught’ for plagiarism just by using common phrases such as ‘I am extremely interested in’, or ‘I want to study this course because’. That being said, it can be good to branch away from these widely used openings – just because it makes you stand out to universities more! Check out this article from Times Higher Education for advice on writing an original personal statement.
If you are pulled up for plagiarism, and know it was not intentional, it is worth checking over the similarity report you will be sent to see what exactly has caused this. There is more information about this report in the FAQs from UCAS, linked here.
If you are still worried about accidental plagiarism, there are plenty more tips for avoiding it in this article from The Uni Guide.
What happens if you are pulled up for plagiarism on your UCAS application?
If the software detects your personal statement as potentially plagiarised, you will be notified and sent a similarity report, and your university choices will also be told.
At this stage, it is a good idea to contact the universities and get their advice for next options. It may be that they don’t use the personal statement as much in their admissions process – perhaps they use interviews instead.
On the other hand, they may have a very strict policy, and reject your application. This decision is up to the university that you have applied to and so it is best to look at their policies on their website or to contact them directly to learn more.
Ultimately, it is never worth trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own.
You have plenty of experiences and talents to help convince universities you are right for their course. Use your own words to talk about these, and you will not have to worry about UCAS’s plagiarism checks. Best of luck with your application!