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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, in part by paying proctors and ringers to take or correct tests for his or her kids. Not even after news of this scheme broke, critics rushed to point out that celebrity parents like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman didn’t want to break what the law states 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 higher premium regarding the personal statement, a 500-word essay submitted through the Common Application, about some foible or lesson, which is designed to give readers a 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” aspects of the procedure; one consultant writing in The New York Times described it as “the purest part associated with 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 as a result of helicopter parents or college-prep that is expensive who cater to the one percent.
In interviews with all the Daily Beast, eight college application tutors shed light from the economy of editing, altering, and, on occasion, outright rewriting personal statements. The essay editors, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because so many still operate in their field, painted the portrait of a business rife with ethical hazards, where the relative line between helping and cheating can become tough to draw.
The employees who spoke into 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 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 using their tutor, who would grade it based on a rubric that is standardized which included categories like spelling, sentence structure, style, or whether or not it was “bullshit-free.”
Most made between $30 and $100 per hour, or just around $1,000 for helping a student through the entire application process, on occasion taking care of up to 18 essays at a time for assorted schools. Two tutors who worked for the same company said they got an added 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 selection of subjects. When he took the job in 2017, the company was still young and fairly informal september. Managers would send him essays via email, plus 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 “pretty explicit” that the work entailed less editing than rewriting.
“When it’s done, it requires to be good enough for the student to go to that school, whether that means lying, making things up on behalf associated with 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 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 inform the storyline of this student moving to America, struggling for connecting with an stepfamily that is american 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 talked write my paper about that loving-relation thing. I don’t know if which was true. He just said he liked rap music.”
With time, the tutor said, his company shifted its work model. Instead of sending him random, anonymous essays, the managers started 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 year that is past students in the fall, and I wrote almost all their essays for the Common 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 more hours for a worker to stay with a student and help them figure things out than it does to just do it for themselves. We had problems in past times with people corners that are cutting. We’ve also had problems in past times 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 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 few universities. I was 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 in order to make essays—we were told and we also told tutors—to make the essays meet a certain quality standard and, you know, we didn’t ask way too many questions about who wrote what.”
Most of the tutors told The Daily Beast that their customers were often international students, seeking advice on how to break in to the American university system. A number 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 his clients over, recounted the story of a female applicant with little-to-no English skills.
“Her parents had me can be bought in and look after all her college essays. The form they were delivered 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 would be kind of a prerequisite for an American university. But these parents really don’t care about that at all. They’re going to pay whoever to 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. Although 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 do the help that i will, but I say to your parents, ‘You know, you did not prepare her with this. You put her in this position’. Because obviously, the abilities required to be at Columbia—she doesn’t have those skills.”
The Daily Beast reached off to numerous college planning and tutoring programs as well as the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, but none taken care of immediately requests to talk about their policies on editing versus rewriting.