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 associated with the scheme broke, critics rushed to point out that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman didn’t need to break what the law states to game the machine.

For the ultra-rich, big contributions might get their name on a science building and their offspring a spot at a top-tier school—an option California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently called “legal bribery.” Even 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. More than one university and advising blog rank the essay one of the “most important” aspects of the method; one consultant writing in The New York Times described it as “the part that is purest of the application.”

But while test scores are completed because of the student alone—barring bribed proctors, that is—any number of individuals can modify an essay before submission, opening it up to exploitation and less-than-pure tactics at the hands of helicopter parents or expensive college-prep counselors who focus on the one percent.

In interviews using the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light on the economy of editing, altering, and, at times, outright rewriting statements that are personal. The essay editors, who agreed to speak from the condition of anonymity because so many still work with their field, painted the portrait of a market rife with ethical hazards, where in actuality the relative line between helping and cheating can be tough to draw.

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

Most made between $30 and $100 per hour, or just around $1,000 for helping a student through the application that is entire, often times working on up to 18 essays at any given time for various schools. Two tutors who worked for the same company said they got a plus 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 an organization that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a range of subjects. When he took the work in 2017, the company was still young and fairly informal september. Managers would send him essays via email, while the 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 that is“pretty explicit the job entailed less editing than rewriting.

“When it’s done, it needs to be great enough for the student to go to that school, whether that means lying, making things through to behalf associated with the student, or basically just changing anything such that it would 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.”

In one single particularly egregious instance, the tutor said, a student submitted an essay on hip-hop, which named his three or four favorite rappers, but lacked a definite narrative. The tutor said he rewrote the essay to tell the story of the student moving to America, struggling in order to connect with an American stepfamily, but eventually finding an association through rap. “I rewrote the essay so that it said. you know, he unearthed that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and having a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I also talked about this loving-relation thing. I don’t determine if that was true. He just said he liked rap music.”

As time passes, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. In the place of sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers began to assign him students to oversee throughout 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 so that it would look like it was all one voice. I experienced this past year 40 students into the fall, and I also wrote each of their essays for the essay4you most popular App and everything else.”

Not all consultant was as explicit concerning 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 are not always followed: “Bottom line is: it will require more time for an employee to stay with a student which help them work things out for themselves, than it does to simply get it done. We had problems in the past with individuals cutting corners. We’ve also had problems in the past with students asking for corners to be cut.”

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

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

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

“Her parents had me are presented in and look at all her college essays. The form 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 believe that, you know, having the ability to read and write in English could be kind of a prerequisite for an American university. But these parents really don’t worry about that at all. They’re likely to pay whoever to really make the essays seem like whatever to get their kids into school.”

The tutor continued to advise this client, doing “numerous, numerous edits with this girl’s essay” 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 does not know how to write essays, and she’s struggling in class,” he told The Daily Beast. “i actually do the assistance that i will, but I say to your parents, ‘You know, you did not prepare her with this. You place her in this position’. Because obviously, the abilities necessary to be at Columbia—she doesn’t have those skills.”

The Daily Beast reached off to numerous college planning and tutoring programs and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, but none taken care of immediately requests to go over 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 touch upon how they guard against essays being authored by counselors or tutors. Stanford said in a statement which they “have no specific policy with regard to the essay part of the application form.”