Reusing parts of his own old essay: will this be flagged as plagiarism?

For his common app, my s would like to reuse some parts of an essays that he wrote last year and submitted for a competition to get an internship. I assume that it is ethical for him to do so since he wrote it himself, however i wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t be flagged somehow as plagiarism by the colleges he is sending it to. I don’t know how the software works; do colleges compare the applications against everything ever written, or just against other college application essays? (The essay he wrote for the competition went before a blind review panel at a government institution, so the essay itself never had his name on it). If there is any risk of it raising red flags, I will tell him to start over. Thanks for your insight!

I have no real knowledge to answer this question,

but I remember hearing that college app essays are screened through Turn it in dot com software 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 students essays previously submitted to Turnitin…

I would caution my child not to do that. But that is just my opinion. Now if there are some parts he wants to use, he can reference in his essay that he wrote this for a competition and put it in quotes. In a way, quoting himself. My D is literature major and in her psychology class this semester her professor’s definition of plagiarism was using a paper previously written and not providing adequate identification of the text that is the same. Again, I think they would see that as lazy and cutting corners, so I think he should spend his time writing a fresh one instead of figuring out how to make that one okay.

I am inclined to agree with Tperry above. He could perhaps rewrite the essay using a different perspective though and change things a bit so it doesn’t look like plagiarism, even though it is his own work.

I suggest rewriting the parts that he will use. Good writers are constantly rewriting.

There was a thread a bit ago about a student who I think failed a class or got censured because they reused but expanded upon an old essay that they themselves had written. I know some places explicitly do not allow reusing your own work without acknowledgment. Blew me away but better safe than sorry.

Was the original paper submitted to turnitin? Both of my kids crafted a new essay but there were some bits and pieces (not taken verbatim) from personal essays written for English class (which I don’t believe were on turnitin). He could just be sure he doesn’t use any entire passages that have not been edited. I think the important thing is to tell the story you want to tell.

Seriously? I tell my students to recycle their essays all the time. I would liken this to writing an essay for the Common App and reusing it (edited, in a different form or different word length, etc) for the UC application as well as the UT application. Why reinvent the wheel if the essay conveys what he wants to say? I see absolutely nothing wrong with using an old essay again for a different purpose with the appropriate changes/edits.

At my kids’ high school, everyone was required to write an essay for the common app in the spring of their junior year. This was a graded English assignment. In the fall of her senior year, my daughter used the same essay with a few minor tweaks for her National Merit application. There were no problems with this.

Maybe try downloading one of the many online (free) plagiarism checkers and run the essay through and see what comes up?

Thanks so much everyone for your thoughts. He ultimately decided to go in a new direction with his essay just to be safe. But runswimyoga sparked a new question: if someone downloads an essay into a free online plagiarism checker, won’t it then become part of the database~ meaning that the same essay would then later be flagged when the school runs it through?

@Stev132 I don’t think so if you are merely checking the essay on your own computer… but I am no expert. Anyway glad to see he has chosen to go in a new direction just to be safe!

You can re-use your own work as often as you want unless you have sold the copyright.

Legality is not the same as college integrity rules. Over the years CC has seen a number of threads where a student re-used just part of a previous paper, sometimes even with verbal permission from the professor to expand on previous work, and still got into big trouble. Don’t do it.

If someone just cuts and pastes part of an old essay into a new one with a different purpose, it is pretty easy for the alert reader to see the faultlines in what ought to be an organic whole. If you are going to reuse your old work, be sure you revise it and integrate it well into the new context. That is harder to do that it seems. Sometimes it’s actually easier to just start afresh.

In college, it may or may not be “illegal” or actionable for students to recycle their own papers whole, but it’s not usually a very effective strategy. There are always “tells”; the irrelevant details, the bits that don’t quite fit the argument. It irks the professors and it’s a sign of high laziness.