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Writing papers for American college students has become lucrative overseas (nytimes.com)
107 points by _ttg 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

When I studied business in college, I'd say that half of my senior year class were gunning for the same banking and consulting gigs. In either case, it was known and understood that those types of employers were obsessed with your grades.

Unless you happened to have the most amazing and prestigious internship / experience, your GPA would make or break your chances at such firms.

At the same time, we knew from internships at those types of firms that what you do / work on VS what you do at a school, varies a lot. Most knew that you didn't really need to have a 4.0 understanding of your topics to do the jr. work at an investment bank. But you still need stellar grades to land those jobs!

This, in turn, lead to a culture of test-taking and "gaming the system" rather than learning. Students would take the "easiest" and most predictable classes to maximize their grades, and would religiously study for exams rather than fully soak up the course material (because as it happens, a lot of professors liked to keep their exams fairly standardized and similar).

And, of course, if students were desperate, they'd get other people to do their school work. Writing essays, doing homework, even hiring people to do their exams, with fake ID, etc.

When I studied Engineering, however, I didn't see much of this culture. The Engineering jobs didn't have the same stringent requirements for jobs - well, not most at least.

So those are my observations. The more importance you put on grades, the more cheating and focused studying seems to appear.

edit: Also, when a college degree stops being a certification/vetting of knowledge, work ethics, and persistence, and rather becomes a mere formality to for work, people will start treating it differently. I've heard classmates say things like "It's no big deal if you don't know x and y, you'll learn it through work anyway", which seems like a bad sign to me.

As someone on the other side of this, recruiting for a big bank, it was depressing.

The reason we defaulted to the GPA was exactly because it was so easy to do the work.

Let me explain.

When we visited a school (usually Columbia or NYU for me) we had 100s, usually over a 1000, resumes. When I talked to the students, they were all bright, smart, interesting and motivated. From their resumes I got the impression any of them could do the job. And yet we had to pick maybe 10-30 from the school for that summer. (Keep in mind we recruited from many schools for many different positions).

So you have 1000 resumes and they all seem smart and interesting and you have to pick 10. What do you do?

The GPA is a great way to numerically and “objectively” make a cut. Then when you see a typo and maybe you can exclude that one and so on.

The reason you have to rely on these non predictive elements is exactly because everyone signals well on the predictive elements.

So why not try random instead?

It sounds like a great opportunity for an experiment. Say you have 20 slots, pick 10 using the GPA/nitpick method, and 10 at random, and then compare the results 5 or 10 years later.

yup, once you've whittled down to qualified candidates, you've exhausted your (relatively) objective methods anyway, so random is your best choice then.

i made this same point recently using the nba for illustration: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20848444

I’ve done that a few times when I’ve had to hire people very quickly.

I numbered each resume without reading it and drew lots. We had 6 people interview ~30 people for 10 slots. Each person had 15 minutes to talk. Candidates were out of the running if 3 people said “no”. We stopped when we had 10 people.

It worked out pretty good, but made HR angry. We ended up with 2 bozos, but the rest were pretty great.

I worked at another place years ago where we would mentor call center agents to become DBAs and Unix people. Those folks were all awesome, and a few had GEDs only. One of them called me to thank me for the opportunity, he just became a CIO!

Personally, if you have the time, you can mentor and get better results from a marginally qualified, engaged candidate than a person with the right credentials.

Investment > innate capability

You would think the tech industry, with its endless graveyard of technically-superior-but-undermarketed or under-supported products would recognize this.

I think people do that. I just recommended a few, and others recommended a few and then HR took those in and whittled it down and invited some to interview.

Random somehow seems even more unfair and arbitrary.

>> When I talked to the students, they were all bright, smart, interesting and motivated.

Lol. You obviously were not talking to them very much. Half of elite grads are boring dullards these days. They lack confidence and originality. They only bother with "projects" when they think those projects make great resume items. They never attempt anything that they think might fail. Someone who has never bombed a class or exam, never reached too far, doesn't have enough experience yet. Also, if typos on resumes cause you to drop applicants then you are missing out on great people. You think any of the kids who hire resume writers have typos? A typo is evidence that the applicant actually wrote it themselves. That's a plus imho.

The legal field has a trick in interviews, but it is applicable to any field: Ask the applicant to tell a story about something they saw happen. The one who could put a narrative together on the fly, the one that could organize their thoughts as they spoke, those are the people you want. Unless you are hiring ditch diggers, effective communication means more than base skills, let alone typo avoidance.

Half of elite grads are boring dullards these days. They lack confidence and originality.

Sounds like exactly what large consulting and banking institutions are looking for.

They want fresh grads they can put through their corporate training program, send the most sycophantic to a top MBA program, chew them up (albeit with great pay) for 10 years and throw most of them away, keeping a few as partners.

Do you think your view was common in any way? GPA is a deeply flawed metric but I don’t think most people have any awareness of this.

There are plenty of jobs in banking that don’t require much beyond the ability to get a BA in whatever and a personality that tends to follow the rules.

Even in tech jobs, the narrow scope of jobs for compliance reasons enables all sorts of wacky. I had a buddy who basically performed a single task related to zoning SAN volumes and made an obscene salary for doing so.

GPA correlates to a personality that the function in the bureaucracy.

I see these type of comments as an underemployed college grad and don't know how to feel.

step one is don't feel bad. it really is a numbers game. some of the companies you're applying to don't actually want to hire anyone for the position right now. some of them are desperate to get anyone with a pulse yesterday. it's all about timing, but you don't usually have a way of knowing when the time is right.

just keep rolling the dice; you'll get a bite eventually. I got an internship that lead to my first full-time job when I had a 2.4 GPA. I just happened to have experience with relevant tech that was rare in the area and they gave me a shot.

Here's my issue:



So while what you say is true, my potential network is necessarily limited. Working in retail, I still met plenty of people who wouldn't even let me assist them because of my race. I think this may go beyond personal qualities.

As the other reply said, it’s a numbers game. Making friends and building relationships are key. You can stack the odds with a friendly face.

It felt like most other people had the same view. That is also why personal networks could be used to differentiate. I don't know what it looks like now though, or if there is more concern about just reproducing what people already look like by tapping into personal networks.

In my time in school for Engineering (UIUC), I think the "gaming the system" was mostly with the group projects. Many high level classes such as processor design made people form into groups of 2, 3, or 4 people to do a project. Of course like most group work, the workload is terribly lopsided toward the competent people, while the less competent people go get pizza and drinks for the others, and take up a little bit of work (which usually has to get rewritten anyway). Everyone ends up with the same grade.

None of this is of course considered cheating, but a number of people skate past projects all the time. I do agree though, that once it gets to job interviews, those people typically fare less well.

Of course in engineering, some people would still try to focus on the easiest classes to fulfill the requirements and maximize their GPA, but GPA only seemed to really matter if you were going to grad school. Other than that, anything 3.0+ is good enough to get an interview for an internship.

> Of course like most group work, the workload is terribly lopsided toward the competent people, while the less competent people go get pizza and drinks for the others, and take up a little bit of work (which usually has to get rewritten anyway). Everyone ends up with the same grade.

I was never assigned a group project in college that I didn't feel was a complete waste of time, but this situation is actually pretty easy to avoid if the professor cares.

one of my professors would require group members to individually submit reviews of their teammates with each milestone on the project. basically "did they do their fair share, less, or more?" if on average your team felt you went above and beyond the call of duty, your individual grade would be the group grade multiplied by r > 1, and the opposite if everyone felt you were a slacker. the scores were normalized so if everyone rated each other as exceptional, r would just be 1. it didn't make the distribution of work perfect, but it made everyone pretty interested in at least appearing to contribute.

I agree with you mostly, but to add my own take:

I've seen the cutoff for more desirable engineering jobs being 3.5, which is also basically the cutoff for competitive grad schools. The real distinguishing factor at that point is what kind of lab work / extracurricular projects you've produced, and it's a lot harder to hide behind a group then.

> When I studied Engineering, however, I didn't see much of this culture.

When I studied engineering I saw almost the same culture. Firms were looking for the same students with similar GPAs and sadly I was not one of them. I distinctly remember going to the campus job fair and having my resume repeatedly being put into the "maybe" pile. My academic work wasn't amazing but my extracurriculars were a few engineering project competitions. But the recruiters never looked past the GPA requirements.

I would say IT and CS is far more democratic. I've met far more software engineers who don't have a traditional CS background but managed to hustle their way in somehow.

My academic background from Engineering was in Electrical Engineering, so very much a "traditional" background, i.e where most firms hiring were rather old and stodgy, compared to modern high-tech SV companies.

The reputable firms usually had a more or less firm cut-off around 3.0, while smaller firms were more lenient.

Most reputable finance and consulting firms wouldn't even look at your CV unless you had a 3.5

I think CS firms are more forgiving, and care less about credentialism. Obviously you'll have some, but if you're a kick-ass developer with a portfolio to show, most companies are willing to take a look. I think a lot of firms understand that they're missing out on excellent non-traditional hires, because HR and old hiring practices have been gatekeeping them away.

Microsoft was the first big tech firm I ever spoke with, and interviewed for, and they said that as long as you had taken at least one class in data structures, you were welcome to the interview - didn't mater if you had studied history or CS.

That is reassuring coming from Microsoft. It sets a benchmark that other F500s can use. I didn’t have what it took to be a MechE. I did use my extracurricular activities to get into web dev. Starting with flash, action script and JavaScript.

Of all my friends who graduated as engineers half are in IT or software engineering at this point. There traditional engineering careers were awe fully short for the amount of effort put in.

When I spoke to Microsoft (circa 2004), they said I needed a bachelor's degree from a respected college like UW, or relevant job experience to even apply. I was attending a community college at the time so I volunteered to work at a tech company for free, and ended up making that a career.

Maybe things have changed but I was very disappointed.

(If academic performance is relevant I had a GPA equivalent of 4.0 or 3.6 depending on how it was measured, about a 96% average across my classes)

When I was recruiting interns for CS at Apple, a good project trumped just about any GPA north of 1.0

If I could see you solve problems with code in a got repo with history, and you can solve a problem live for me on a laptop or whiteboard, I don’t need to approximate your ability through coursework because I have more directly measured it. This gets fuzzier for non-entry level qualities, but they don’t really teach those in schools anyways. I always tell people in school to lean heavily into their projects.

That's exactly what I would do, trumps grades any day.

Engineering is a bit different. I found that most of the classes had professors that switched up the problems significantly every year to where old tests didn't help much. Memorization is useless when there are a nearly infinite amount of different circuit problems that can go on the test. You have to actually understand the material and how to apply it in diverse situations. You also typically find that most required classes outside of the math/physics/engineering (Ex: literature and psychology) are pretty simple to ace. I never heard of anyone who had someone write them a paper.

I'm guessing it varies a lot by school. I went to a top engineering school as an undergrad and cheating was rampant - probably something like 1/3 of the graduating class participated in cheating to some extent. I then went to another top engineering school as a graduate student and I never saw anyone cheat.

Yeah I think so. I was shocked to discover that over a 1/3rd of the computer science classes I TA'd as a grad student were cheating, repeatedly, on homework assignments and tests. I had come from a culture as an undergrad (and graduate student at another university) where cheating even once was a potential expellable offense. At the very least you would fail the class. In the comp sci classes I TA'd the professor would fail the students for the assignments but no more, even after multiple offenses.

Perhaps the differences could be explained by differences in how the institutions ranked their teaching staff?

Interesting. At my university it was most certainly fail the course and possibly expulsion.

At my school it was seen as a political issue.

If you got stuck in a section that was dominated by a particular group of students, you were screwed because the class had a hard curve and the group openly and blatantly cheated.

We had a faculty mentor from a different department sit in and witness what happened in an midterm, and escalated it to the administration, who made an accommodation for us.

I think this varies a lot by professor. Typically failing a student involves a lot of extra paperwork on the professor's part. Doubly so if it's for academic dishonesty.

Cheating in engineering is pointless. At every tech company I’ve interviewed at (on either side of the table) as soon as you get into the interview what school you went to and what grades you got don’t matter. If you can’t whiteboard some technical problems you aren’t getting in.

I know people that cheated, were utterly incompetent, and got prestigious jobs at tech firms.

As engineers? Like, actual individual contributions and not managers? Doing what?

The only engineering firms I've interviewed for which had rigorous technical interviews, were consulting firms. Most other firms were almost exclusively focused on soft-skills and personality, and then some pretty softball technical questions.

Yes, as engineers.

That company sucks then. It might be hard to measure between competent engineers but bad engineers stick out like a sore thumb. If that keeps happening it means the entire engineering department sucks at those companies.

When I say prestigious jobs, I don't mean random companies you've never heard of - these include companies well known for their engineering excellence. I don't know how their careers advanced, so maybe they quickly found themselves looking for work elsewhere. No hiring process is perfect. We've all had to deal with less-than-excellent coworkers.

Our engineering college had a policy that all old tests had to be on file at the library. It prevented professors from just recycling exams and deprived the cheater groups of their advantage. The science colleges did not do that, and cheating was rampant for those classes.

Sounds like a really good policy. Despite what I previously said, some people who have friends that are older seem to get an advantage as if they have enough tests, they might see a familiar problem and generally be aware of the steps to solve it and about how complex it will be without having to reason it out from scratch. This can have a big impact on some exams depending on the professor.

That is an excellent policy. May I ask which school?

And these same folks continue gaming the system once employed by these banks. Go figure.

Maybe that's what they want. A lot of people in general hold the view that high grades just equate to work ethic, so in the case of financial institutions perhaps they are really just concerned with the ability to produce consistent results.

Hmm. A lot of people in one place obsessed with getting the best numbers and willing to game the system any way they can to get them.

Sounds like the cause of pretty much every banking scandal ever, from Nick Leeson, to Libor, to the subprime crisis to Wells Fargo to...

Isn't a lot of banking basically about gaming the system?

Yes, including one’s own employer. Anything for the external validation. (GPA or bonus)

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

I dont think engineers can fake it in a real world tech job. I can spot a phony software engineer rather quickly.

not very different from grinding leetcode to land a gig at FAANG

We are not really different from 'those types of employers'

One of my family members paid their way through school writing papers for others... in the 80s. I don’t think this is a new thing.

I used to do consulting / tutoring for programming. Tutoring was $50 per hour, consulting was $100 per hour. Probably 50% of the students I tutored asked me to write programs for them. I’d tell them my consulting rate, in an attempt to persuade them against this path and most wouldn’t bat an eye.

Cheating is way more common than people think.

>One of my family members paid their way through school writing papers for others... in the 80s. I don’t think this is a new thing.

It isn't. In the mid-1970s I worked in the office of a company that sold term papers to students. We had a huge catalog of them, on about every conceivable topic. And we weren't the only company in that particular business.

It wasn't a particularly lucractive business, and the guy who owned the company closed it fairly quickly. He was an interesting guy - after that company, he spent a year or so developing a solution that would fade denim in your washing machine (I worked for him in that company as well), which he sold for a bundle (at the time) to a major detergent company. Later he became a mover and shaker in the autograph/original document field.

> Probably 50% of the students I tutored asked me to write programs for them

How does this play out after school? These students obviously have no passion for programming and are probably just there for the money after school. But once they get that job--and I'm not even sure they can land that FAANG job they want; you're not going to cram your way to being a competent whiteboard coder--do they just hope they'll just stumble into a job where they don't do much work, and the work isn't very difficult, and are ok with getting fired from every other job?

You adapt. Most tech jobs aren’t very technical.

Usually these folks are savvy, come in and latch on to someone’s work and pivot quickly into a more abstract role or management role. Sometimes they are even good at those roles.

In my experience, those guys end up as IT workers at highschool, hospitals,offices in non tech companies, etc.

Instructors are often unbelievably naive about this, saying things to the effect of "Cheaters are really obvious, so there can't be that much of it." No, the cheaters that you catch are really obvious.

I occasionally teach a college course as an adjunct (fun, and a little extra spending money). I don't know how wide spread cheating is, though if it were extremely common then students wouldn't struggle so much with some of the material. But personally, while I have an "instant F" policy if caught, I didn't really care: My philosophy and that of many other instructors is not one of indignant, "surely I'd know!" about cheating, It's that it's the student's time, their future debt. If they want to waste it, that's on them.

> It's that it's the student's time, their future debt. If they want to waste it, that's on them.

I mean, it is pretty unfair to the kids who actually do honest work. if enough people cheat and get near perfect scores, it makes it hard for the instructor to understand what a reasonable two week project is. grades are also (unfortunately) pretty important for internships.

on the other hand, sometimes people who cheat are really bad at it. in one of the courses I TA'd, there were two groups of 3-4 students who would always sit together in labs. they would always turn in nearly identical labs and homeworks, including all the same mistakes! it looked like the only differences came from transcription errors. I never bothered to report them because they failed all the assignments anyway.

I've never had a problem determining what a reasonable project length or level of difficulty should be. I don't adjust it if I have a particularly apt group of students. Students who really shine are given direction to support that ability but that is case by case, not baked into the overall difficulty of the course. These things can be rubric driven based on what material should be learned and not just improvised based on perceived class characteristics.

There's no unfairness to an honest student who gets just as much out of a course with or without cheaters. Perhaps more if I'm not trying to put together complicated "gotcha" assignments and tests to catch potential cheaters.

Besides, I didn't say I ignored cheating. My fault if I gave that impression. I put in reasonable effort to look out for it, but don't obsess over it. if it went on without me finding out then by definition it wasn't something I could act on, and neither I nor the honest students were the ones losing time and money.

> I've never had a problem determining what a reasonable project length or level of difficulty should be. I don't adjust it if I have a particularly apt group of students. Students who really shine are given direction to support that ability but that is case by case, not baked into the overall difficulty of the course. These things can be rubric driven based on what material should be learned and not just improvised based on perceived class characteristics.

first of all, I don't mean to criticize you personally.

I'm not talking about adding or removing topics/depth to or from a course semester to semester based on the group of kids. in aggregate though, I think you'll definitely notice that the topics covered in a particular class vary a lot from school to school based on the expectations they have for the students. there's a lot more depth in a data structures course at a tech school than in the same class at some liberal arts school's vestigial cs department. if, instead of having brighter students, a school actually just has a much larger proportion of effective cheaters, the professors might unknowingly assign too much work to complete honestly. you personally might not change your assignments much, but I'm not sure how you could prevent this drift from occurring across an entire department over the span of a decade.

> There's no unfairness to an honest student who gets just as much out of a course with or without cheaters.

this depends on what you think the point of college is. if it's strictly about mastery of material for its own sake, sure, cheating only hurts the cheater. unfortunately, most students don't just go to college for the pleasure of learning. they go because they believe it will help them get a job. when you apply to your first internship, your GPA likely one of most important things on your resume. it is very much unfair to be competing against people who didn't earn theirs honestly. if a cheater takes your spot in the recruiting pipeline, you're out for this round. the company isn't going to call you up out of the blue because they realized the other person is an incompetent clown halfway through the summer.

If you were really trying to be persuasive you would have said no.

I accepted a ‘do my computer science homework’ gig from a student in China about 15 years ago, but when I was done, I decided to not do it anymore. A few years later, a married couple (two professors in Saudi Arabia) hired me to remotely tutor their daughter who was an under graduate in CSand that was fun, and I hoped I helped her.

I have a niece who has two masters degrees(literature and screenplay writing) and she has never hit it big with her own writing but she works helping exchange students polish their application essays and the money from that pays her bills and lets her write creatively and she gets by with relatively small income from her creative works.

"helping exchange students polish their application essays"

Do those assessing the applications care if the applicants have had this type and extent of help?

what I don't understand is how they get through the tests.

Often it's more about laziness and motivation than lack of skill. A high percentage of college students can write a mediocre or above 10 page paper but also just really don't want to. They'd rather do something fun and pay someone if it doesn't cost them much. Answering (typically) multiple choice questions and short-response questions is a totally different thing.

I never used such a service, but I do see the appeal. I did kind of similar things, in my own way, to reduce time spent on courses I didn't like (skipping class, skipping or skimming material, exam cramming). Not saying it's a good thing, and it probably hurts one's already poor work ethic, but life is short and I don't really blame them that much.

That suggests that these assignments are more like busy work, since the students are otherwise talented and qualified? Maybe it is a good thing after all?

Perhaps doing the assignment improves the student's understanding of the course material, which the professor thinks is a good thing, but it's possible to pass the course with only a mediocre understanding of the material?

> but it's possible to pass the course with only a mediocre understanding of the material

probably this.

the most time-efficient strategy for studying that I found in college was simply retyping all the bullets from the powerpoints 2-3 times. I didn't understand what I was writing, but I basically trained myself to be a "chinese room" for test questions. I got As on all the tests for classes I didn't care about this way.

Pretty much exactly what I did, as well. And I'd usually do it an hour or two before each test.

at my school, the weighting was usually designed to emphasize the projects. the projects and homework combined would often be 50% of the grade right there. the homework would be softball questions or stuff you could just look up the answers for on the internet; almost everyone who bothered to do it would have a near perfect homework average. once you pay someone to also get you near perfect scores on the projects, you just needed to get about half the points on exams and quizzes to pass the course.

That's how my old college buddy got through, leaning on me and a few other friends for tutoring and help on the big projects and memorizing enough to get through the tests, forgetting the relevant material soon after. As they say, C's get degrees. We used to joke his diploma should come with an asterisk.

Anecdotally, more than half the classes I've taken at GT (OMSCS) so far have graded entirely on homework, projects, and participation, with no tests.

Visiting a high school my friend founded to be inquiry-driven project-based learning from the ground up moved me away from teaching in ways divorced from regular life. From a systemic approach, it's hard not to look at the universities and professors creating the system that this article describes: assign homework irrelevant to their lives and they'll find irrelevant ways to do it.

Since I've never written an analytical essay outside of school, I avoid assigning them in favor of projects connected to students' lives.

Maybe that's why my students' homework assignments get them covered in the Washington Post, WSJ, Forbes, Inc, and lead to them speaking in TEDx and Harvard, and in Y Combinator, funded by Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt.

You've never had to read and understand some data, analyze it, and then communicate your results via written word in your career? I'm totally willing to grant you that the majority of careers do not require this skill but most white collar work does.

Agreed that essays are overused but I'm just surprised to hear you downplay them so much.

The handful of times I've been asked to analyze something, the result has been a list or graph with some accompanying description.

I had a coworker who had a reputation for long emails. It was clear, based on hallway comments, that no one was reading them. People don't appear to have much tolerance for essays unless there's good reason for it.

Agreed. When I write an email, I usually address the topic generically, then list options or reasons or whatever, then give a takeaway or action item. Most people seem to only read the topic statement. Not sure if I have lazy coworkers or I'm not an effective emailer.

TO: hugey010@...

SUBJECT: Put the action statement in the subject line, starting tomorrow

Your colleagues read your emails in sequence. You care that they have read the action statement so they can follow up or disagree. Putting it first will get it read.

Put the action statement in the subject line, starting tomorrow. You can also repeat it at the end.

If you have a better suggestion, let me know today please.

The typical academic essay doesn't (IME) really prepare students that well. What I felt worked best was a CS professor I had whose courses were entirely project-based and 50% of the grade was based on a report of your work. It was much closer to the type of writing an engineer will need to do and it was one of the most helpful experiences I had in school.

Learning how to write well is important, but I didn't feel that any of the lit classes I took helped greatly.

I suspect that arguing on forums has done much more for my communication skills than writing a bunch of essays on topics I didn't care about. the feedback is a lot quicker, and the criticism much sharper.

We really need to move towards vocational ed and apprenticeships: https://seliger.com/2017/06/16/rare-good-political-news-boos....

Large numbers of students in colleges shouldn't be there.

That’s true but I doubt the types dropping $ to have their papers professionally written are the types who would otherwise go and become plumbers or electricians.

Who buys a paper? A lazy child of the ruling class.

The ruling class? You vastly over estimate the price of getting homework done.

I used to pay for some of my books each semester by just burning through all the low hanging "do my intro to CS homework" posts on job sites. $10-$20 a pop for a few minutes of effort.

$20 was actually a lot of money when I was a college student. that's 2-3 meals off campus or enough cheap booze for a small party. I was pretty lazy and I never even considered paying someone to do my homework.

I agree. One issue I find is that many students struggle with the remedial and 101 classes which I honestly think and decent freshman or sophomore in highschool should be able to do. The point is that highschool isn't very successful for many students.

Well, academically speaking, the reason students learn to write papers the way they do, is probably to prep them best for academia - not the professional world (though many jobs are not mutually exclusive from what you do in academia - i.e research)

Tell us more! What's the name of your school? Can I send my kids there?

I teach at NYU. My courses are in book form too:



My friend's school that inspired me is Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. He's given TEDx talks and keynotes online:




Many people here are writing about classmates that didn't care, coasted, cheated, etc., painting a picture of that as the norm. I'm sure that goes on, but it's by no means universal, or even (in my experience) dominant. I went to a middle of the road public university because I got a full scholarship. I thought I was smart, the smartest in any room-- for about a month. (It says how young & dense I was that it took so long) Then I realized I was surrounded by people who were at least as smart, plenty of them smarter, harder working (and I wasn't lazy) and intellectually curious. I was humbled (and better for it). I have also worked in higher ed technology and in contact with many students as a result, and my experience with them was the same.

So absolutely there are cynical grade chasers, and worse those that pay their way to do it. But a very large portion are not. You probably just don't know it because they aren't loudly bragging about how they got the easiest professor, coasted to an A, plagiarizes a paper without getting caught, etc. They're just doing the work.

High school tutoring appears to be the same thing but in person: the tutors basically do the homework for you (ahem, "with" you).

It was so bad that in one class at my son's high school, the kids were turning in great homework but failing the in class tests, so the parents protested and had the homework's weight increased (and test weight decreased) in the computation of the overall grade -- and had the change made in the middle of the year!

I was quite naïve and was shocked by this. I'd gone to schools where where external tutors or essay-writers weren’t really viable.

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.

Will the students who purchased these essays go on to build bridges, rockets to the moon, cure cancer? Hah...

Interestingly, there is probably little or no supply of German, Dutch, Scandinavian bootleg essay mills.

Can just speak for Norway; There are few (if any) essay mills I can think of, but then again I haven't used them.

The biggest hurdle over here seems to be get accepted to your study or college of choice - because as our system is, the only thing that counts during admission are your grades from HS or Undergrad. We have no interviews, essays, entrance exams, etc. only your GPA.

And on top of your GPA, some studies require a certain grade in specific classes. For example, to get admitted to the top Engineering school, you'd need a 3.0 in AP Math classes from HS (well, translated to American equivalent).

I'm still active on some homework forums, and I've been contacted quite a few times by posters that want to pay me for doing their homework, and even exams, because they needed to pass a minimum grade.

And in college / universities, there's an equivalent to the US "frat files" system, where senior students hand down previous HW and exam solutions to junior students.

Actually yes. Students are responding naturally to incentives in this situation. Those who are willing to cheat to get ahead will probably have an advantage in life.

Uh, the “American” rockets to the moon were built by Germans, former Nazis picked up by Operation Paperclip.


Some were even accused of crimes against humanity after they were done with rocket work.


It takes more than science to go to the Moon. It takes money, and most of all organization and management skills. The U.S. is good at the latter.

When Nazi scientists were imprisoned after WWII, they were secretly recorded as saying they could not believe Americans had built the A-bomb. Even though the Germans had the scientific knowledge, in-fighting and jealousy prevented them from cooperating. They never could have mustered the resources, coordination and leadership required to achieve a practical bomb. For example, the precise refining of tons of ore to get uranium.

That's a bit dramatic.

Fraternities and sororities have kept libraries of old graded exams and essays for decades. How is it fair if one group can see the Chemistry 101 exam from the previous year?

This is probably the reason why you never see your final exam or even other exams after you take it during the exam period.

> How is it fair if one group can see the Chemistry 101 exam from the previous year?

Back when I studied the school would openly distribute old exams - complete with solutions.

And no, not everyone got an A despite this, and yes, I still remember my maths (helped someone the other day, I guess it is about 15 years since last time touched it.)

The student chapters of ACM and IEEE-CS at my university kept test banks with full knowledge of the CSE and EE departments. It was allowed by the honor code as long as the tests had previously been used. The university basically neutralized the advantage Greeks had with their test banks by requiring professors to come up with unique tests each time.

It screws everyone out of the know because it screws up the curve.

don't today's students simply photograph the exams while they're taking them?

Once you realize the point of college is not to learn things, it's to get the degree, all of this makes sense.

Not everyone is just in it for the degree. Some people actually want to learn things, expand their mind, and meet people who are trying to do the same. We should treat these kinds of students with respect and hold everyone else to the same standard they hold themselves, which means disallowing and discouraging cheating whenever possible.

To counter this sort of cheating, one of my prof had us defend our papers in a one on one 'podcast' interview with him for 10-15 minutes and then graded the paper based on our performance.

Seems like that would work only in smaller classes. It quickly becomes a real headache when you have hundreds of students.

That's what TAs are for.

Sadly, btw. Students aren't paying $30,000 per year for 23-year-old living in poverty to grade their work and do half the teaching and a checked-out professor focused on research with no passion of teaching.

Having graduated from a program with ~60% dropout rate by the second year, I appreciate the quality control side of things, but the number of professors I had to had any sort of passion for teaching was sadly low.

Who can blame faculty for having no interest in teaching introductory classes when the dropout rate is 60 % and when all the dropouts go whining to administration when they became weeded out?

High dropout rates might actually be a good sign - everyone gets to try out, and if they don't manage it's time for them to go do something else. It beats overzealous gatekeeping.

This is how tutorials work in traditional unis in the UK (or used to anyway) except that sometimes there is no paper just a discussion of the topics one is studying.

I only had one proffessor that wrote reasonable writting assignments and actually graded them based on content. You could tell most writting assignments were getting graded entierly on APA formatting and word count (if the "writting" assignment wasn't just "fill in the blanks in this word document using so many words per question.")

Near the end durring capstone people wrote the most useless wordy documents because they had just spent 4 years learning how to draw small simple ideas out into paragraphs instead of comming up with enough ideas to fill a paragraph. It's not surprising that many of them are hiring other people to write them, the whole exercise seems silly.

This can extend beyond school. Once we hired someone who had a good phone interview, and not that great an interview, though there were some language issues. We were growing rapidly and this person got the job.

They liked to work late, often talking on the phone...within a few days we realized that they were discussing the work with someone on the phone, who had probably been on the phone screen and probably had a day job. The employee couldn’t program at all, and was employed by us about a week total.

I don’t know how they made it through the interview process but the VP of engineering immediately revamped the hiring process!

I would say that cheating in school isn’t a problem, but it unfortunately devalues other people’s work. Ideally we would live in a world in which no class was graded on a curve and in which going to college wouldn’t be considered by employers at all. But I guess we don’t. But cheating isn’t the root problem, it’s the sports like mentality we have about education (valedictorian, 3rd in your class, etc etc) that’s the problem.

At some point cheating will catch up to you, I hope. But some people manage to go a very long way by being total cheats.

> it’s the sports like mentality

That's just the human (or maybe cultural) drive to compete. The problem is it turns into an arms race that starts with training (but the training can become overwhelming) and leads to performance-enhancing drugs (could be steroids, could be Adderall). Where do you draw the line? 4 hours of studying? Educational summer camp? 12 year olds taking the SAT? Practically mandatory extra-curriculars?

At least on the academic side, obviously smart students who just missed the cutoff for elite schools still do fine, but it's hard to tell kid who has to go to UCLA because they didn't get into Harvard that it affects their opportunities less than they'd think.

I'm just glad I went to a very traditional uni that didn't do this essay stuff. We had tutorials, open note exams, and final year project reports.

Not much of that can be bought from outside and even if you did it wouldn't help you much because it all had to be defended in a viva voce.

I suppose you could buy the notes but the final quantum mechanics exam was pretty much of the character take what you have studied and answer questions that had not been discussed in the course. If you weren't familiar with the notes then I think you would have struggled as in fact many of my contemporaries did.

Well my tutor did assign me a project to be done in the long vacation after my second year but he didn't 'mark' it, we discussed it and I had to defend my conclusions. It didn't affect any grades anyway because the uni didn't do grades. There were end of year exams to check that you were keeping up but the class of your degree depended only on the final and the final year project report and its associated viva.

I’d like to know who writes those essays — and hire them!

I paid to have a few history essays written for me. Judge me if you please but the class was ridiculously hard for an introductory history class and I had my plate full already.

The writer I stuck with for the semester was excellent. She was very well written, followed instructions well, and always delivered on time. I'm sure she was making good money doing it. If anything she was under charging.

Since they technically retain copyright of those papers the overseas people should be able to claim their status as co-author after the paper has been published. And throw in a complimentary scholarship as well.

I dropped out of highschool, and decided to learn whatever I want. How sad to incarcerate oneself with so much debt without the slightest interest in learning anything.

Ready solution: make tests the only thing that matters.

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