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 a long list of well-heeled and well-known parents who rigged the college-admissions process, in part if you are paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests for their kids. Not long after news of the scheme broke, critics rushed to indicate that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman did need to break n’t what the law states to game the system.

For the ultra-rich, big contributions could easily 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.” Perhaps the moderately wealthy can grease the admissions process with extensive SAT tutoring or, more problematically, college application essay editing.

In the admissions process, there’s a high premium in the personal statement, a 500-word essay submitted through the typical Application, about some foible or lesson, which is designed to give readers a far better sense of the student than, say, a standardized test score. More than one university and advising blog rank the essay one of the “most important” areas of the method; one consultant writing in the brand new York Times described it as “the purest part of the application.”

But while test scores are completed by the student alone—barring bribed proctors, that is—any amount of people 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 cater to the 1 percent.

In interviews with all the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light in the economy of editing, altering, and, on occasion, outright rewriting personal statements. The essay editors, who decided to speak regarding the condition of anonymity since many still work in their field, painted the portrait of a market rife with ethical hazards, where the relative line between helping and cheating can become hard to draw.

The staff who spoke into the Daily Beast often struggled to obtain companies with similar methods to essay writing. For some, tutors would early skype with students on within the application process to brainstorm ideas. (“I would personally say there have been plenty of instances 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 making use of their tutor, who would grade it relating to a standardized rubric, which included categories like spelling, sentence structure, style, or whether it was “bullshit-free.”

Most made between $30 and $100 each hour, or just around $1,000 for helping a student through the application that is entire, in some instances taking care of as much as 18 essays at a time for various schools. Two tutors who struggled to obtain the company that is same 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 an organization that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a range of subjects. As he took the work in September 2017, the company was still young and fairly informal. Managers would send him essays via email, and also the tutor would revise and return them, with ranging from a 24-hour and two-week turnaround. But right from the start, the consultant explained, his managers were that is“pretty explicit the task entailed less editing than rewriting.

“When it’s done, it must be great enough for the student to attend that school, whether that means lying, making things up on behalf for 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 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 share with the story associated with the student moving to America, struggling to connect with an American stepfamily, but eventually finding a connection through rap. “I rewrote the essay such that it said. you know, he found that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and having a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I also talked relating to this loving-relation thing. 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 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 such that it would seem like it was all one voice. I had this year that is past students when you look at the fall, and I wrote each of their essays for the Common App and anything else.”

Its not all consultant was as explicit about the editing world’s moral ambiguities. One administrator emphasized that his company’s policies were firmly anti-cheating. He conceded, however, that the guidelines are not always followed: “Bottom line is: it will take additional time for a worker to stay with a student and help them evauluate things on their own, than it does to just 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 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 payment in exchange 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 for the 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 which will make essays—we were told and we also told tutors—to make the essays meet a quality that is certain and, you understand, we didn’t ask way too many questions regarding who wrote what.”

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

“Her parents had me may be found in and look after all her college essays. The form they certainly were taken 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 understand, to be able to read and write in English would be sorts of a prerequisite for an American university. But these parents really don’t care about that at all. They’re likely 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 with this girl’s essay” until she was later accepted at Columbia University. But not long for help with her English courses after she matriculated, the tutor said she reached back out to him. “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 am able to, but I say to your parents, ‘You know, you failed to prepare her for this. She is put by you in this position’. Because obviously, the relevant skills necessary 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 responded to 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 did not respond or declined touch upon how they protect well from essays being written by counselors or tutors. Stanford said in a statement that they “have no specific policy with regard to the essay percentage of the application form.”