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 operation that is sting Operation Varsity Blues exposed a long list of well-heeled and well-known parents who rigged the college-admissions process, to some extent if you are paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests for their kids. Not long after news regarding the scheme broke, critics rushed to indicate that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman didn’t have to break the law to game the system.

For the ultra-rich, big contributions might 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.” 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. One or more university and advising blog rank the essay one of the “most important” aspects of the procedure; one consultant writing in the newest York Times described it as “the part that is purest regarding the application.”

But while test scores are completed by 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 college-prep that is expensive who cater to the 1 percent.

In interviews using the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light on the economy of editing, altering, and, in some instances, outright rewriting statements that are personal. The essay editors, who decided to speak in the condition of anonymity since many still operate in their field, painted the portrait of an industry rife with ethical hazards, where in fact 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 the majority of, tutors would Skype with students early on in the application process to brainstorm ideas. (“I would say there have been a lot 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 due to their tutor, who would grade it in accordance with a rubric that is standardized which included categories like spelling, sentence structure, style, or whether it was “bullshit-free.”

Most made between $30 and $100 each hour, or about $1,000 for helping a student through the application that is entire, every so often focusing on up to 18 essays at the same time for assorted schools. Two tutors who struggled to obtain the company that is same they got a bonus if clients were accepted at their target universities.

One consultant, a Harvard that is 22-year-old graduate told The Daily Beast that, during his senior year in college, he began working as an essay editor for a company that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a variety 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, additionally the tutor would revise and return them, with anywhere between a 24-hour and two-week turnaround. But right from the start, the consultant explained, his managers were “pretty explicit” that the work entailed less editing than rewriting.

“When it is done, it needs to be good enough for the student to attend 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 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 or four favorite rappers, but lacked a definite narrative. The tutor said he rewrote the essay to tell the story of this student moving to America, struggling in order to connect with an stepfamily that is american but eventually finding a connection through rap. “I rewrote the essay such that it said. you understand, he unearthed that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and achieving a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I talked relating to this thing that is loving-relation. I don’t know if that has been true. He just said he liked rap music.”

With time, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. In place of sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers started initially 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 write all 18 of her essays such that it would appear to be it was all one voice. I had this past year 40 students when you look at the fall, and I also wrote almost all their essays for the Common 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 rules were not always followed: “Bottom line is: it will require more time for custom writings a member of staff to sit with a student and 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 struggled to obtain the same company and later became the assistant director of U.S. operations told The Daily Beast that while rewriting was not 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 particular App that is common essay supplement essays at a couple universities. I became 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 at our way, we had been just told which will make essays—we were told and now we told tutors—to make the essays meet a certain quality standard and, you know, we didn’t ask too many questions about who wrote what.”

Lots of the tutors told The Daily Beast that their customers were often international students, seeking advice on simple tips to break in to the American university system. A number 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 his clients over, recounted the storyline of a female applicant with little-to-no English skills.

“Her parents had me can be found in and look at all her college essays. The shape they certainly were taken to me in was essentially unreadable. I mean there were the bare workings of a narrative here—even the grasp on English is tenuous,” he said. “I genuinely believe that, you know, being able to read and write in English could be style of a prerequisite for an university that is american. But these parents really don’t worry about that at all. They’re going 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 about this girl’s essay” until she was later accepted at Columbia University. But not long after she matriculated, the tutor said she reached back out 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 do the assistance that I’m able to, but I say to your parents, ‘You know, you would not prepare her with this. She is put by you in this position’. Because obviously, the abilities required to be at Columbia—she doesn’t have those skills.”

The Daily Beast reached out to numerous college planning and tutoring programs plus the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, but none taken care of immediately requests to discuss 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 would not respond or declined touch upon the way they guard against essays being compiled by counselors or tutors. Stanford said in a statement which they “have no specific policy with regard to the essay part of the application.”

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