Plagiarism -- the act of passing off someone else's work as your own, no matter where you found it -- is pretty common on college campuses. If one of your professors or an administrator realizes what you've done, you may be charged with plagiarism and put through some kind of campus judicial system.
1. Figure out what the process is. Do you have a hearing? Are you supposed to write a letter explaining your side of the story? Does your professor simply want to see you? Or could you be placed on academic probation? Figure out what you're supposed to do and by when -- and then make sure it gets done.
2. Make sure you understand the charges. You may have received a strongly worded letter accusing you of plagiarism, and yet you're not totally clear on what exactly it is you're being accused of. Talk with whoever sent you the letter or your professor about the specifics of your case. Either way, make sure you're crystal clear on what you're being charged with and what your options are.
3. Make sure you understand the consequences. In your mind, you may have been up late, writing your paper, and absentmindedly cut and pasted something from your research that you forgot to cite. In your professor's mind, however, you may have not taken the assignment very seriously, showed disrespect to him or her and your fellow classmates, and acted in a way that is unacceptable at the college level. What is not very serious to you may indeed be very serious to someone else. Make sure you understand what the consequence are, therefore, before you are unpleasantly surprised at how your sticky situation just got a lot worse.
4. Respect and participate in the process. You may not think the plagiarism charge is a big deal, so you toss the letter aside and forget about it. Unfortunately, however, plagiarism charges can be serious business. Respect and participate in the process so that you can explain your situation and reach a resolution.
5. Figure out what you've learned so that it doesn't happen again. Plagiarism charges in college can be dealt with lightly (essay rewrite) or severely (expulsion). Consequently, learn from your mistake so that you can prevent getting yourself into a similar situation again. Having a misunderstanding about plagiarism, after all, can only happen once. The next time you receive a letter, folks are much less likely to be understanding since you've already been through the system. Learn what you can and move forward toward your ultimate goal: your diploma (earned by you and your own work, of course!).