I'm an international student applying for college in the US. I asked subject teachers from my current school to write me recommendation letters, specifically telling them not to just copy one from the Internet. I'm using the Common Application for four out of the eight colleges I'm applying to.

My recommenders submitted their letters to CommonApp and only then did they show their letters to me (which was okay, because I waived my right to review the recommendations) and when I checked online, they had ended up copying 99% of the letter from ones found online.

My question is, will this affect my chances of getting into these colleges? I'm not entirely sure if copying recommendation letters from online counts as plagiarism, and I'm also not sure if colleges check for plagiarism in LORs. Thanks for your clarification!

  • To prevent this from happening, I would advise you and other international students to tell the reference that he can write the letter in his own language. I'm thinking maybe the reference was embarrassed about his or her English. – aparente001 Nov 12 '16 at 4:37
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    I wonder if you can comment on the outcome of this. It has been three years since you asked. Hoping you found success. – Buffy Dec 5 '19 at 13:20
  • specifically telling them not to just copy one from the Internet --- I have to admit that I was surprised the OP would have even considered this possibility, although I probably shouldn't be. To me it's somewhat analogous to an Olympic runner (still young and healthy) parking in a handicap parking space to avoid walking an extra 10 meters. – Dave L Renfro Dec 5 '19 at 14:47
  • Lesson: don't waive your right to see what people are writing about you. – ObscureOwl Dec 5 '19 at 15:39
  • @Buffy - we told the teachers off for doing what they did and found new ones. I think I wrote in the extra comments section to ignore the letters of rec the old teachers sent and asked the reviewers to look at the other ones. I guess it worked out because I'm now a junior in college! :) – pinklemonade Dec 5 '19 at 23:33

Yes, it counts as plagiarism on the part of the teacher. There are 2 possibilities if they check the letter and find the plagiarism:
1. the university thinks your teacher copied the letter from an online source. This will make them be highly skeptical of the teacher as an academic and it will probably negatively reflect on you as a consequence. They might think you have worked in an environment where plagiarism is pervasive for example.
2. They think you forged a letter from your teacher by copying one from the internet and sending it in their name. This is of course even worse for your chances.

Either way, even if the universities don't check all letter for plagiarism,you must consider the possibility that the reader at the university will recognize the letter. Or they might suspect plagiarism after reading it and check this specific letter.
My advice would be: ask for an original letter, but whatever you do, don't send this letter.

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  • Okay... my counselor (who I said was one of the recommenders) uploaded the recommendation where the transcripts were supposed to be uploaded. Would it look suspicious to upload an original letter in the right place? – pinklemonade Nov 11 '16 at 12:43
  • I don't really understand what the last sentence of this answer is suggesting. – Nate Eldredge Nov 11 '16 at 14:12
  • If the copied letter was already send I'd quickly speak with the person who copied the letter and ask her/him to write an original letter and retract the copied letter. If not, I'd contact the institution the letter was send to and ask them to not consider the copied letter in your application. @NateEldredge : my last sentence is suggesting to ask for a letter of recommendation that wasn't copied from the internet, but instead written by the recommender specifically for the OP. Also, I am suggesting the OP to not send the copied letter, for which it is unfortunately too late. – dimpol Nov 11 '16 at 14:30

My question is, will this affect my chances of getting into these colleges?

  • Yes, obviously.

I'm not entirely sure if copying recommendation letters from online counts as plagiarism

  • Not really, and they are not going to check, the problem here is not ethical. More likely the person reading the letters will recognize it instantly as boilerplate and put your file into the rejected stack. Thats all.

It is still possible that you will be admitted somewhere if you have something interesting as part of your education, or if your school is known to the admissions officers in the US as having a rigorous program.

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