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Consequences of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty. It’s misrepresenting someone else’s words or ideas as your own, whether you meant to or not.

Sometimes someone accidentally plagiarizes because they’re unsure how to cite and paraphrase properly.

Sometimes, however, people plagiarize on purpose. There could be lots of reasons–stress, confusion about the assignment, or a lack of interest in the assignment. Sometimes people just feel stuck and they don’t want a bad grade.

However, it’s important to be aware that there are serious consequences of plagiarism. Your school will have a policy on academic honesty, such as this one from Purdue University. This policy will include definitions of different types of plagiarism and academic dishonesty as well as consequences. It can likely be found in a student handbook or a similar document. Academic honesty falls under the broader category of student conduct. Even if you don’t read the policies on academic honesty or other student conduct issues, you are considered responsible for behaving according to the rules.

You should also see something about plagiarism on your professors’ syllabi. Make sure to ask them if you have any questions.

It would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with your school’s specific policies. However, here we will discuss common consequences of plagiarism.

Consequences to your learning

Plagiarism is often viewed as a short-term solution. Someone might feel overwhelmed with school work and even with other things like their job and personal life. Plagiarizing an assignment might seem like a way to get over an immediate hurdle. However, there are consequences to your learning if you plagiarize.

Ultimately, you are in school to develop your knowledge base, your critical thinking skills, your communication skills, and your work ethic. Plagiarism robs you of part of that development process.

Underdeveloped time management abilities

It is hard to balance everything in college. People often plagiarize because they don’t feel like they have time to get everything done. Completing assignments requires the ability to manage not only your time but your emotions. You often have to be able to defer gratification and do the hard work of, well, doing the hard work. Plagiarizing takes away the chance to practice managing yourself, your activities, and your various obligations.

Time management skills will always be important. Your busyness is probably not going to decrease after college. Many careers are quite demanding and require you to balance multiple tasks, just like college. At a later stage in your life, you may also have more family obligations. Consider college an opportunity to develop the ability to manage your time to accomplish challenging tasks.

Underdeveloped communication skills

Many college assignments, such as essays, reports, and speeches, focus on effective communication skills. Through these assignments, students develop a broad range of rhetorical strategies and writing techniques that they can use in a variety of academic and professional contexts. Through practice, students develop communication fluency and confidence in their skills. If someone misses out on this practice by plagiarizing, though, it stands to reason that their skills would not be as developed. While most people probably don’t plan on being professional essay writers someday, most professions require effective communication in some form or another. Writing and communicating skills are important long after college. Don’t miss the chance to develop them.

Underdeveloped perseverance

Unsurprisingly, people often choose to plagiarize assignments that they consider hard. Difficult assignments also often are bigger projects worth a greater percentage of your grade than other assignments. For many people, projects like these don’t go away after graduation. They are a part of many people’s professional lives, too. There is value in learning how to break a large project into smaller tasks and manage your progress through the tasks, adjusting as necessary, until you reach your goal. It builds perseverance, organizational skills, and project management skills. You’ll be better able to take on projects in your professional life if you’ve already had practice in your academic life.

Underdeveloped knowledge base

Content-based classes in particular aim to provide students with a certain knowledge base. This is accomplished through the readings and the assignments. Someone who plagiarizes an assignment obviously does not actually do the assignment and has probably not done the reading or studying leading up to the assignment either.

Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about building a knowledge base, and that means the parts are connected, just like a physical building. This is what helps us remember knowledge and truly make it our own, truly get it and know what to do with it. If you plagiarize, you’ll be missing part of this “building” of knowledge, which will just make things harder in subsequent classes, especially in classes that directly build on the knowledge you were supposed to gain in an earlier class. If you plagiarize to get through a 200-level psychology class, you’ll have an even harder time in a 300-level psychology class.

Consequences to your class standing

It is up to the class instructor to determine the penalty for plagiarism. An instructor would generally consider the severity of the case and whether it’s the person’s first case of plagiarism or not. However, different schools and teachers have different policies. Don’t assume a first case will be treated with leniency.

Here are some common penalties.

Reduced grade on the assignment

This would be likely if the amount of plagiarism was minimal and the majority of the work was still the student’s own work. A reduced grade might also be given if the plagiarism seemed to be due to uncertainty about when or how to cite sources. An inadequate paraphrase, as long as it didn’t take up too much of the essay, might also warrant a reduced grade as opposed to an outright zero.

Zero on the assignment

A zero on the assignment would be the likely consequence when all or most of the assignment is plagiarized. Your instructor wants to grade the work you do, not the work the Internet does or your friend did or even the work you did in a different class.

Keep in mind that you may not be given a chance to make up work that is plagiarized. For example, writing teachers often allow students to revise essays since revision is an important part of the writing process. However, if you didn’t truly write the essay in the first place, you can’t really revise it. Your “revision” would really be your first go at the assignment.

Also, if the assignment is worth enough points, a zero on it may basically translate to a failing grade in the course, especially if your overall class grade is already close to the borderline.

Failing grade in the class

A failing grade in the class is often given if there is more than one case of plagiarism. However, make sure to read your instructor’s policy on plagiarism. Some instructors may automatically assign a failing grade in the class for any case of plagiarism, even if it is the first case or on a minor assignment.

A zero in the class means no credit and it’s a significant drag on one’s overall GPA. A 2.0 is generally required to remain in good standing at a college and to participate in sports or other activities. A GPA lower than 2.0 may mean the student is placed on academic probation.

GPA is often also connected to financial aid eligibility. In order to be competitive for scholarships, students often need a higher GPA than what is needed just to avoid academic probation. While someone might plagiarize thinking to save their GPA or even improve their chances of getting a scholarship, the penalty for plagiarism could definitely have the opposite effect.

Consequences to your college standing

Even if plagiarism happens in just one class, it can have consequences on your college standing overall.

Mark on college record

Some colleges and universities will note plagiarism on students’ official transcript. This would then become part of someone’s permanent academic record. This could negatively impact that person’s chances of transferring or being accepted into a graduate program. It could also make it harder to obtain any scholarship that requires transcripts as part of the application process.


Someone who plagiarizes could be expelled from a program of study or even from the school. This is a more extreme punishment that would be more likely after multiple cases of plagiarism; however, policies vary from school to school. Expulsion from a program or school would make it more difficult to gain admittance into another.

Consequences to your professional standing

Sometimes there’s the sense that college is separate from “the real world,” as if it occurs in some sort of alternate dimension.  However, the skills someone develops (or doesn’t develop) in college will impact their professional success. College is one place where you can make progress on personal development that will make you a strong contributor to your professional field, and hence, a desirable employee and colleague.

A college habit of plagiarism can keep you from developing the hard and soft skills you’ll need for success beyond college. Furthermore, plagiarism in the workplace can have serious professional consequences.

Difficulty in competing for professional opportunities due to missed learning opportunities

There is an unfortunate saying: “Cs get degrees.” The idea is that it doesn’t matter what your academic record looks like; you’ll still have the same degree as someone who worked hard in school. This mindset may encourage some people to take the risk of plagiarizing.

While it may technically be true that a low GPA wouldn’t keep you from getting a degree  (provided it’s not so low as to place you in danger of dismissal), someone who has consistently tried to get out of work and learning opportunities via plagiarism will be unable to display the same depth, intellectual development, and knowledge as someone who worked through challenging tasks and learned from them. This will have consequences in interviews and possibly even on CVs and resumes.

Missed advancement opportunities or even job loss

Any employer will want their employees to be genuinely skillful and capable. Plagiarizing in the workplace signals a lack of capability. It is also dishonest, which is not likely to be received well at work. This could mean a missed opportunity for a promotion. It could also mean a demotion or some form of disciplinary action.  Even one such incident could tarnish a person’s reputation and make it hard for him or her to regain the trust of coworkers and supervisors.

Plagiarism could even lead to job loss. This would be especially likely if the situation drew public attention. In the corporate world especially, a business would not want to be associated with plagiarism. Additionally, repeated cases of plagiarism would be more likely to lead to job loss since the employer would lose confidence in the person’s ability and honesty.

Legal consequences

Plagiarism might seem like a victimless crime, but someone’s words, ideas, and other creative arrangements are considered intellectual property. Given that many people earn money or gain professional status and opportunities from their intellectual property, there are laws that protect it and penalize its infringement.

One high profile intellectual property case was resolved in 2015, when Marvin Gaye’s heirs won a lawsuit against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. The suit claimed that the song “Blurred Lines” plagiarized Marvin Gaye’s work. Losing this lawsuit cost Thicke and Pharrell millions, not to mention the loss of reputation and stress from the lawsuit and verdict.

Most intellectual property cases don’t involve famous people or millions of dollars, but this does illustrate that there is a legal component to plagiarism and intellectual property is connected to people’s livelihood. This applies not only to musicians, but bloggers, scholars, software developers, artists, and any person or company involved in creative work.


Ultimately, don’t think of plagiarism as a crutch to get through something hard. The short-term relief of getting out of an assignment isn’t worth the consequences. Even if your instructor doesn’t notice, you aren’t doing the college-level work that will develop your skills and knowledge. This work will serve you well in college and beyond.

Published October 29, 2020.

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