Another College Cheating Scandal: Personal Essay ‘Editors’ Reveal How They Cheat for Rich

Another College Cheating Scandal: Personal Essay ‘Editors’ Reveal How They Cheat for Rich

Tarpley Hitt

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast/Getty

Last week, the sting operation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues exposed more information on well-heeled and well-known parents who rigged the college-admissions process, to some extent by paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests for his or her kids. Not long after news of this scheme broke, critics rushed to point out that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman didn’t need to break the law to game the machine.

When it comes to ultra-rich, big contributions may get their name on a science building and their offspring an area at a top-tier school—an option California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently called “legal bribery.” Perhaps the moderately wealthy can grease the admissions process with extensive SAT tutoring or, more problematically, college application essay editing.

A 500-word essay submitted through the Common Application, about some foible or lesson, which aims to give readers a better sense of the student than, say, a standardized test score in the admissions process, there’s a high premium on the personal statement. One or more university and advising blog rank the essay among the “most important” areas of the procedure; one consultant writing in the latest York Times described it as “the part that is purest regarding the application.”

But while test scores are completed because of the student alone—barring bribed proctors, that is—any number of individuals can transform an essay before submission, opening it as much as exploitation and less-than-pure tactics as a result of helicopter parents or college-prep that is expensive who appeal to the one percent.

In interviews with all the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light from the economy of editing, altering, and, in some instances, outright rewriting personal statements. The essay editors, who decided to speak from the condition of anonymity since many still operate in their field, painted the portrait of a market rife with ethical hazards, where in fact the line between helping and cheating can be tough to draw.

The employees who spoke to The Daily Beast often struggled to obtain companies with similar methods to essay writing. For most, tutors would Skype with students early on in the application process to brainstorm ideas. (“I would say there have been plenty of cases of hammering kids with potential ideas,” one tutor said. “Like, ‘That’s a terrible idea for an essay, why don’t you try this instead?’”) Then, the student would write a draft, and bounce back edits with their tutor, who would grade it according to a rubric that is standardized which included categories like spelling, sentence structure, style, or whether or not it was “bullshit-free.”

Most made between $30 and $100 per hour, or just around $1,000 for helping a student through the entire application process, often times working on up to 18 essays at the same time for various schools. Two tutors who worked for the same company said they got an advantage if clients were accepted at their target universities.

One consultant, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate, told The Daily Beast that, during his senior year in college, he began being employed as an essay editor for a company that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a selection of subjects. When he took the job in September 2017, the organization was still young and fairly informal. Managers would send him essays via email, together with tutor would revise and return them, with anywhere between a 24-hour and turnaround that is two-week. But from the beginning, the consultant explained, his managers were “pretty explicit” that the task entailed less editing than rewriting.

“When it’s done, it requires to be good enough for the student to go to that school, whether which means lying, making things up on behalf regarding the student, or basically just changing anything so that it could be acceptable,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’ve edited anywhere from 200 to 225 essays. So, probably like 150 students total. I would personally say about 50 percent were entirely rewritten.”

Within one particularly egregious instance, the tutor said, a student submitted an essay on hip-hop, which named his three to four favorite rappers, but lacked a clear narrative. The tutor said he rewrote the essay to inform the storyline of this student moving to America, struggling for connecting with an stepfamily that is american but eventually finding an association through rap. “I rewrote the essay so that it said. you realize, he discovered that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and achieving a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I talked about this thing that is loving-relation. I don’t determine if which was true. He just said he liked rap music.”

In the long run, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. Rather than sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers begun to assign him students to oversee during the entire college application cycle. “They thought it looked better,” the tutor said. “So if I have some student, ‘Abby Whatever,’ I would personally write all 18 of her essays such that it would appear to be it had been all one voice. I experienced this past year 40 students when you look at the fall, and I wrote each of their essays for the normal App and everything else.”

Not all consultant was as explicit about the editing world’s ambiguities that are moral. One administrator emphasized that his company’s policies were firmly anti-cheating. He conceded, however, that the principles promo code are not always followed: “Bottom line is: it requires additional time for a member of staff to stay with a student which help them evauluate things than it does to just do it for themselves. We had problems in past times with individuals corners that are cutting. We’ve also had problems in the past with students asking for corners to be cut.”

Another consultant who worked for the same company and later became the assistant director of U.S. operations told The Daily Beast that while rewriting had not been overtly encouraged, it absolutely was also not strictly prohibited.

“The precise terms were: I was getting paid a lump sum in return for helping this student using this App that is common essay supplement essays at a few universities. I became given a rubric of qualities when it comes to essay, and I was told that the essay needed to score a point that is certain that rubric,” he said. “It was never clear that anything legal was at our way, we were just told to create essays—we were told and now we told tutors—to make the essays meet a quality that is certain and, you understand, we didn’t ask too many questions about who wrote what.”

Lots of the tutors told The Daily Beast that their clients were often international students, seeking advice on just how to break in to the university system that is american. Some of the foreign students, four of the eight tutors told The Daily Beast, ranged in their English ability and required significant rewriting. One consultant, a freelancer who stumbled into tutoring in the fall of 2017 after a classmate needed anyone to take his clients over, recounted the storyline of a female applicant with little-to-no English skills.

“Her parents had me appear in and look after all her college essays. The design they certainly were brought to me in was essentially unreadable. I mean there have been the bare workings of a narrative here—even the grasp on English is tenuous,” he said. “I genuinely believe that, you know, to be able to read and write in English could be variety of a prerequisite for an university that is american. However these parents really don’t care about that at all. They’re going to pay whoever to really make the essays appear to be whatever to get their kids into school.”

The tutor continued to advise this client, doing “numerous, numerous edits about this essay that is girl’s until she was later accepted at Columbia University. Yet not long after she matriculated, the tutor said she reached back out to him for help with her English courses. “She doesn’t learn how to write essays, and she’s struggling in class,” he told The Daily Beast. “i actually do the assistance for this that I can, but I say to the parents, ‘You know, you did not prepare her. You put her in this position’. Because obviously, the skills essential to be at Columbia—she doesn’t have those skills.”

The Daily Beast reached out to numerous college planning and tutoring programs therefore the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, but none taken care of immediately requests to talk about their policies on editing versus rewriting.

The American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers also declined comment, and universities that are top as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown failed to respond or declined comment on the way they guard against essays being compiled by counselors or tutors. Stanford said in a statement which they “have no policy that is specific regard to the essay portion of the application form.”