Post Date: August 8, 2019

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, to some extent if you are paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests due to their kids. Not even after news for the scheme broke, critics rushed to point out that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman didn’t have to break what the law states to game the machine.

For the ultra-rich, big contributions may 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 brand new York Times described it as “the purest part of this application.”

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

In interviews using the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light regarding the economy of editing, altering, and, in certain cases, outright rewriting statements that are personal. The essay editors, who consented 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 the line between helping and cheating can become difficult to draw.

The employees who spoke into the Daily Beast often struggled to obtain companies with similar methods to essay writing. For the majority of, tutors would Skype with students early on within the application process to brainstorm ideas. (“I would personally say there have been a lot 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 with their tutor, that would grade it in accordance with a standardized rubric, which included categories like spelling, sentence structure, style, or whether or not it was “bullshit-free.”

Most made between $30 and $100 each hour, or around $1,000 for helping a student through the entire application process, often times focusing on up to 18 essays at a time for various schools. Two tutors who struggled to obtain the company that is same they got a plus 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 being employed as an essay editor for an organization that hires Ivy Leaguers to tutor applicants on a variety of subjects. When he took the work 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 two-week turnaround. But right from the start, 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 which means lying, making things through to behalf for the student, or basically just changing anything so 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 an obvious narrative. The tutor said he rewrote the essay to inform the storyline regarding 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 discovered that through his stepbrother he could connect through rap music and having a stepbrother teach him about rap music, and I also talked about any of it thing that is loving-relation. I don’t determine if that has been true. He just said he liked rap music.”

As time passes, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. Instead of sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers begun 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 write all 18 of her essays so that it would look like it had been all one voice. I experienced this past year 40 students when you look at the fall, and I wrote almost all their essays for the most popular 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 were not always followed: “Bottom line is: It takes more time for a member of staff to stay with a student and help them evauluate things on their own, than it will to simply do it. We had problems in the past with people cutting corners. 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 was not overtly encouraged, it 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 Common App essay and supplement essays at a couple universities. I became given a rubric of qualities for the 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 had been just told to create essays—we were told and we also told tutors—to make the essays meet a certain quality standard and, you realize, we didn’t ask a lot of questions about who wrote what.”

A number of the tutors told The Daily Beast that their customers were often international students, seeking suggestions about simple tips to break right into the American university system. A few of the foreign students, four of the eight tutors told The Daily Beast, ranged within 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 someone to take over his clients, recounted the storyline of a female applicant with little-to-no English skills.

“Her parents had me are available in and look after all her college essays. The form 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 know, having the ability to read and write in English will be style of a prerequisite for an American university. However 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 on this girl’s essay” until she was later accepted at Columbia University. Yet not long for help with her English courses after she matriculated, the tutor said she reached back out to him. “She doesn’t understand how to write essays, and she’s struggling in class,” he told The Daily Beast. “i actually do the help for this that I can, but I say to the parents, ‘You know, you did not prepare her. You place her in this position’. Because obviously, the relevant skills necessary to be at Columbia—she doesn’t have those skills.”

The Daily Beast reached off to numerous college planning and tutoring programs in addition to 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 universities that are top as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown did not respond or declined comment on the way they protect well from essays being published by counselors or tutors. Stanford said in a statement that they “have no specific policy with reference to the essay portion of the application form.”


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