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

Tarpley Hitt

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast/Getty

A week ago, the operation that is sting Operation Varsity Blues exposed a long list of well-heeled and well-known parents who rigged the college-admissions process, in part by paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests for his or her kids. Not long after news for the scheme broke, critics rushed to indicate that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman did need to break n’t the law to game the system.

When it comes to 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.

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

But while test scores are completed because of the student alone—barring bribed proctors, that is—any number of people can transform 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 1 percent.

In interviews utilizing the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light on the economy of editing, altering, and, from time to time, outright rewriting statements that are personal. The essay editors, who consented to speak from the condition of anonymity because so many still operate in their field, painted the portrait of a business rife with ethical hazards, in which the line between helping and cheating can become tough to draw.

The staff 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 when you look at the application process to brainstorm ideas. (“i might say there were plenty of instances 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 with their tutor, that 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 about $1,000 for helping a student through the entire application process, in certain cases taking care of up to 18 essays at a time for various schools. Two tutors who struggled to obtain the same company said they got an added bonus 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 variety of subjects. As he took the work in 2017, the company was still young and fairly informal september. Managers would send him essays via email, and the tutor would revise and return them, with anywhere between a 24-hour and two-week turnaround. 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 requires to be good enough for the student to attend that school, whether this means lying, making things up on behalf for the student, or basically just changing anything such that it will be acceptable,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’ve edited anywhere from 200 to 225 essays. So, probably like 150 students total. I might say about 50 percent were entirely rewritten.”

The tutor said, a student submitted an essay on hip-hop, which named his three or four favorite rappers, but lacked a clear narrative in one particularly egregious instance. The tutor said he rewrote the essay to tell the storyline regarding the student moving to America, struggling to get in touch with an American stepfamily, but eventually finding a connection through rap. “I rewrote the essay such that it said. you understand, he discovered that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and achieving a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I also talked about this thing that is loving-relation. I don’t know if that has been true. He just said he liked rap music.”

Over time, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. Instead of sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers began to assign him students to oversee throughout the college application cycle that is entire. “They thought it looked better,” the tutor said. “So if I get some student, ‘Abby Whatever,’ I would personally write all 18 of her essays such that it would appear to be it was all one voice. I experienced this past year 40 students into the fall, and I also wrote almost all their essays for the normal App and anything 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 guidelines were not always followed: “Bottom line is: it requires additional time for a worker to stay with a student and help them evauluate things on their own, than it does to simply take action. We had problems in the past with people corners that are cutting. 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 absolutely was also not strictly prohibited.

“The precise terms were: I happened to be getting paid a lump sum in return for helping this student with this App that is common essay supplement essays at a couple of universities. I became given a rubric of qualities when it comes to essay, and I 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 had been just told to make essays—we were told and then 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.”

Most of the tutors told The Daily Beast that their clients were often international students, seeking advice on simple tips to break into the American university system. A number of the foreign students, four for the eight tutors told The Daily Beast, ranged in their English ability and required significant rewriting. One consultant, a freelancer who stumbled into tutoring within 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 available and look at all her college essays. The shape these people 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 think that, you understand, to be able to read and write in English will be sort 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 look 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 off to him for assistance 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 that I can, but I say towards the parents, ‘You know, you would not prepare her for this. She is put by you 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 plus the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, but none responded to requests to go over their policies on editing rewriting that is versus.

The American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers also declined comment, and top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown failed to respond or declined comment on the way they protect well from essays being authored 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.”