What are the consequences of plagiarism in college?

If you use someone else’s words or ideas without properly crediting them, you could be committing plagiarism. The exact consequences of plagiarism depend on your institution’s rules and the type of plagiarism, but common consequences include:

  • Grade penalties
  • Failing your course
  • Facing disciplinary action
  • Suspension or expulsion from your university

Apart from the immediate consequences, being caught plagiarizing is likely to result in a black mark on your academic or professional record, creating problems for your future career. To avoid plagiarism and other kinds of academic dishonesty, it is essential to properly cite your sources in every piece of writing you submit.

Consequences of plagiarism for students

Plagiarism in colleges can be deliberate or accidental, but it almost always has serious consequences. You can usually find the details of your institution’s plagiarism policy in its code of academic conduct.

Accidental plagiarism

If you unintentionally plagiarize, and you have no previous infractions, then most colleges will lower your grade or fail you for the course. You might also be required to attend a workshop on plagiarism and how to prevent it. Some universities might place you on disciplinary probation.

Deliberate plagiarism

If you intentionally commit plagiarism (for example, by copying and pasting text or paraphrasing another author’s ideas without citing the source), you will probably fail the assignment or the course, be subject to disciplinary action, and potentially be suspended.

If your college finds that you have directly plagiarized (i.e. by submitting a paper that is wholly or mostly someone else’s work and passing it off as your own), you could be expelled from your program and university.

Plagiarism of this type is likely to appear on your permanent record and have long-term consequences for your career. Some universities will even revoke your degree long after you’ve graduated if they discover that you plagiarized in your thesis or dissertation.

What universities have to say about plagiarism:

What are the penalties for violating the code?
Academic Integrity Code violations are treated very seriously. The misperceived short-term gain from these acts is not worth the long-term consequences of the penalty.

Sanctions for code violations include loss of credit for the assignment, a failing grade for the course, a permanent notation on the transcript, and dismissal from the university. Second offenses will result in suspension or dismissal from the university.” – American University

“A student who is found guilty of academic misconduct is subject to any of the following sanctions:

  • Expulsion from the School.
  • Suspension from the School for a specified period of time.
  • Denial of credit for the course in which the misconduct took place, or grade, or honors, or denial of a degree; imposition of a failing grade in a course; revocation and withdrawal of credit, grade, honors or a degree previously credited, awarded or conferred.
  • Disciplinary probation. Disciplinary probation may involve counseling with faculty or staff; restrictions of student privileges; prohibition in participation on School or University activities or events; prohibitions against holding office in or participation in student or School organizations and activities.
  • Instruction to faculty to give a zero grade on the assignment in question.
  • Instruction to faculty to provide a written summary of the charge to the SPH Registrar in a sealed envelope. This envelope will be placed in the student’s academic file. Should another incident of academic dishonesty occur with the same student, the first envelope will be opened and the information within considered with the new information. In this instance, documentation from both incidents will remain open and in the student’s file.
  • Letter of warning, to be placed in the student’s file.” – Boston University

“Achievement and proficiency in subject matter include your realization that neither is to be achieved by cheating. An instructor has the right to give you an F on a single assignment produced by cheating without determining whether you have a passing knowledge of the relevant factual material.

That is an appropriate academic evaluation for a failure to understand or abide by the basic rules of academic study and inquiry. An instructor has the right to assign a final grade of F for the course if you plagiarized a paper for a portion of the course, even if you have successfully and, presumably, honestly passed the remaining portion of the course.

It must be understood that any student who knowingly aids in plagiarism or other cheating, e.g., allowing another student to copy a paper or examination question, is as guilty as the cheating student.” – UC Berkeley

Consequences of plagiarism for researchers

In academia and other research-based professions, plagiarism has serious personal and professional consequences. An accusation of plagiarism can severely damage your reputation; it could result in the loss of research funding and even your position.

Plagiarizing has both short- and long-term consequences for your research career. In one example, Chinese researchers attempted to publish a plagiarized article in the Journal of Korean Medical Science. When they were caught, the researchers were banned from submitting to the journal for five years.

If you’re an academic or researcher who has committed plagiarism, you will have trouble finding another position. Additionally, you will have difficulties finding journals that will publish your work or investors who are willing to fund your research.

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Consequences of plagiarism for other professionals

Plagiarism is not only an academic issue: it is considered a serious offense in all professional fields. While public figures and writers often bear the most serious repercussions of plagiarism, other professionals can also face strict consequences at work.

If you’re found plagiarizing, it could potentially end your career, ruin your reputation, and reduce your job prospects.

Example of plagiarism by a U.S. Senator

In 2014, U.S. Senator John Walsh was forced to withdraw from an election when it was discovered that he plagiarized his final paper while earning his master’s degree at the United States Army War College.

Eventually, after following its established procedures for investigating academic misconduct, the War College rescinded Walsh’s master’s degree. The procedure included running Walsh’s paper through a plagiarism detection software.

Read real stories about prominent individuals who were caught plagiarizing: Joe Biden, Monica Crowley, Jane GoodallFareed ZakariaJonah Lehrer, and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

As well as reputational and career damage, plagiarizers can face legal consequences, whether they are students or working professionals.

Copyright infringement

The most serious legal issue is copyright infringement. If you publish plagiarized material, the author of the original text might have legal grounds to sue you. If the author wins, you will have to pay monetary restitutions, in addition to any legal fees you may incur during the process.

3 tips for avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is sometimes deliberate, but it’s often committed unintentionally by students or professionals who are unaware of how to properly credit their sources. Avoiding plagiarism involves paying careful attention to where you find information and how you present it in your own texts.

  1. Keep track of your sources: every time you note down a quotation or idea, make sure to also note the full details of the source where you found it.
  2. Quote properly: If you use someone else’s words—even if it’s just a short phrase—clearly mark the quotation by using quotation marks or block quote formatting, and make sure you have quoted the exact words of the author.
  3. Cite your sources: Every time you quote or paraphrase a source, include a citation to credit the original author and show the reader where you found the information. There are many different citation styles with different rules, but the most important thing is to cite clearly and consistently. Citation machines can help you with this.
  4. Use a plagiarism checker: Even if you’re confident that you haven’t plagiarized, an automated plagiarism checker can identify mistakes like missing citations and paraphrased passages that are too similar to the original text.

Plagiarism checkers for students

The Scribbr Plagiarism Checker detects similarities between your paper and a comprehensive database of web and publication content. Within 10 minutes, you can make sure you have not (accidentally) plagiarized.

We also compared the best plagiarism checkers for research papers. For each plagiarism checker you can find the plagiarism percentage it detected in our test documents and read a more in-depth review about the pros and cons.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you plagiarize?

The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole paper by someone else will have the most severe consequences, while accidental citation errors are considered less serious.

If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offense or whether you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding and/or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.

What is self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism means recycling work that you’ve previously published or submitted as an assignment. It’s considered academic dishonesty to present something as brand new when you’ve already gotten credit and perhaps feedback for it in the past.

If you want to refer to ideas or data from previous work, be sure to cite yourself.

How is plagiarism detected?

Plagiarism can be detected by your professor or readers if the tone, formatting, or style of your text is different in different parts of your paper, or if they’re familiar with the plagiarized source.

Many universities also use plagiarism detection software like Turnitin’s, which compares your text to a large database of other sources, flagging any similarities that come up.

It can be easier than you think to commit plagiarism by accident. Consider using a plagiarism checker prior to submitting your paper to ensure you haven’t missed any citations.

Are plagiarism checkers accurate?

The accuracy depends on the plagiarism checker you use. Scribbr is the most accurate plagiarism checker. Many free plagiarism checkers fail to detect all plagiarism or falsely flag text as plagiarism.

Take a look at this comparison of free and paid plagiarism checkers for students to find the most accurate plagiarism checker.

The accuracy is determined by two factors: the algorithm (which recognizes the plagiarism) and the size of the database (with which your document is compared).

Size of the database

Many free plagiarism checkers only check your paper against websites – not against books, journals or papers previously submitted by other students. Therefore, these plagiarism checkers are not very accurate, as they miss a lot of plagiarism.


Most plagiarism checkers are only able to detect “direct plagiarism”, or instances where the sentences are exactly the same as in the original source. However, a good plagiarism checker is also able to detect “patchwork plagiarism” (sentences where some words are changed or synonyms are used).

Do you have to cite common knowledge?

Common knowledge technically does not need to be cited. However, you should be extra careful that this knowledge is, in fact, considered common.

Common knowledge encompasses information that the average educated reader would accept as true without needing the extra validation of a source or citation.

Common knowledge should be widely known, undisputed and easily verified. When in doubt, always cite your sources.


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Lorenza Shabe

Lorenza is an academic writing expert. She has a Master's in English Literature and Creative Writing and a background in Political Science. She works tirelessly on improving Scribbr's Knowledge Base content.