Unlike the wealthy Chinese students described in this story, my family is poor--even paying the application fees is no easy. Besides, I really don't like being unauthentic and cheating. I wrote all the essays myself, without buying any guides or paying anyone. Just like in this story, I searched every corner of my world and put in pieces that most represent myself. The writing process took me 3 months, which was an incredible learning experience.
In the spring when I was doing a video chat with a professor from UBC, she asked me whether I had any native speaker to help on my writing (legit to ask, I should say). One month later, I got a personal email from the chair of NYU Tisch school of Arts, that he's moved and impressed by my essay. It was reassuring the efforts paid off (at least it stood out from the fake authenticity). That fall I came to Stanford.
Thanks to Chinese education, Chinese students are usually very weak on independent thinking, we're trained to give standard answers and follow certain scripts. Applying for schools abroad is a good opportunity to re-think and re-learn. But apparently all the "consulting" services, ghostwriters have provided again, crutch to rely on and scripts to follow. After coming to the US, as they probably haven't thought clearly about why they came here, many Chinese students fail to make the best use of their time here. It can also water down the quality of education programs, as some of the students are under-qualified or not motivated.
Many American students also fail to make the best use of their time in America. As a matter of fact, if I had to guess based on the people I know, the average (international) Chinese student in American is probably harder working than the average American student.
Forgery of college admissions essays is rampant not just in China but also in the US (and I suspect in many other places), but actually the problem is really much worse than that. With the boom of the "college consultants" industry, professionals are essentially "forging" entire high school careers on behalf of their clients - telling them what classes to take, which clubs to join, where and how many hours they should volunteer, etc. The end result is that these clients look like amazingly productive students with a superhuman sense of self-initiative, whereas in reality these kids simply followed a script written by some adult their parents paid large sums of money for.
Eventually, after I told him I was sick of doing write ups that were completely unnecessary, he admitted he was taking a marketing class at Harvard. I was unknowingly doing all of his exercises, and he would turn my write ups in to the Professor. Apparently he got an A.
I don't really get this perspective. If colleges are going to base admissions on amorphous things like what clubs someone joined, or what organizations they volunteered for, why shouldn't a student hire a consultant to navigate those waters? Is the student who hires a consultant to tell them what classes to take, or what clubs to join, or what organizations to volunteer for, and then follows through with those, less deserving of a spot than someone that happens to randomly fall upon the right combination of activities? Or, more to the point, has an uncle who went to an Ivy-league school that can give them the same advice?
If anything, admissions consultants level the playing field. Who else is going to tell a bright midwestern student that Ivy-league schools don't respect locally popular clubs like Future Farmers of America? Who else is going to tell a bright lower-income student that they should spend their summers "volunteering" in Africa instead of working all summer to make some spending money? The families with Ivy-league alums already know what boxes to check.
You're not supposed to prep for standardized tests, either. They're trying to function like IQ tests - a measure of who you are and your education as a whole, not how you studied. ACT and College Board have a wealth of data available, and have concluded that engaging in prep activities between sittings moves your score by at most a few points.
Of course, once it's a social expectation that children of elite parents will go to elite schools, they're willing to throw money at gaming the system. Though a natural consequence of the free market, it still feels distasteful.
Providing these sorts of services freely or cheaply as a charitable organization trying to help rural kids/new immigrant families get on their feet is one thing; charging many hundreds of dollars per hour to a clientele of investment bankers who need to impress their colleagues with their children's admissions is different.
Is there any other culture in the world where you are "not supposed to" study for an important exam?
The clubs thing is ridiculous too. If my "natural" selection of clubs makes my admission to good school less likely, it is my natural response to adjust clubs selection. The ridiculous thing is basing admissions on fluff like that.
So instead there's tons of handwaving about how the most important predictor of success in life and in education is experience in the sailing club and the polo club and the chess club. Not because its true, but because mostly rich white kids are in those clubs so if you select those groups you'll get the "right" people wrt race and income.
The problem is someone fakes their social life and interests to get into school, if they make it they're going to be surrounded by a weird mix of genuine upper class kids who really did grow up enjoying sailing and playing polo, and a subgroup (perhaps too small to be self sustaining and supportive) of poseurs who don't care about that stuff other than a means to an end.
There is an analogy in software hiring practices. Obviously everyone knows from studies that higher IQ people are more successful. But implementing IQ tests is a legal minefield. Smart people can learn algos. So google does or used to torture applicants with algo questions. They're not looking for people who know all about red black trees or implying that all jobs there use algos, but are selecting people who passed the "IQ test that isn't an illegal IQ test" filter. "cargo cult" copycat companies who do almost the same but miss the intelligence test part, perhaps by asking brainteasers or similar tasks that don't require intelligence, are comical.
The moral of the story, is if you want to do something wrong or immoral or highly politically incorrect, you can get about the same outcome by playing games with overlapping venn diagrams and pretend that a right, moral, popular activity with a large overlap is what you "really" want. A large part of adult/older human cultural interaction is understanding when someone's talking exoterically or esoterically in order to respond correctly.
Yes, I think that's the general idea. Ideally the criteria are kept secret of course. It's the same as picking employees who do open source or learnt Haskell in their spare time. You want people who independently make certain choices for reasons unrelated to getting a college place or a job, but the signal is much less useful when everyone knows that you are looking for it.
The most equitable solution would be to base admissions purely on grades but that isn't possible when you have grade inflation, because more people get straight As than there are places at top universities.
And your alternative to this is? They're metrics for assessing candidates for a reason, you know. Sure, once they start getting gamed, they're no longer accurate, but that's a different discussion.
Moreover, they create a huge bias in favor of kids who can afford to spend their free time doing unpaid work, and against kids that need to work to earn a little extra spending money, or kids that need to help with the family business. We're not even talking about "poor" people here. The people hardest-hit by these policies are first-generation middle class people, who don't stand out with a sob story about how they grew up in poverty, but aren't in a position where they can do volunteer work and also have their parents buy them a car. Emphasizing these factors also creates a bias against immigrants. A lot of first-generation Americans just don't feel comfortable engaging in the community in that way.
Hate the player and the game. Without players, there is no game.
Admittedly it's not a perfect system, but if the existing system is admission essays written by ghostwriters, I'd say it'd be an improvement.
If universities are willing to accept students not based on merit but on a touching story, then they had it coming.
People who admit one to these universities in general are not alumni of that school, did not go through the same experience and are not experts in the subject one wants to study. It is ludicrous to expect them to differentiate good candidates from bad ones.
Also general criticism to above seems to be that it is not feasible to deal with all the applicants. That claim is bogus since Oxford and Cambridge professors are conducting multiple technical interviews with each candidate for centuries for both domestic and international students.
EDIT: Loving down voting without explanation for a reasonable opinion on the subject.
And today C and O admit based on comprehensive objective tests just like almost all of the world's elite universities outside the USA.
US universities could avail themselves of that system, if their priority were academic quality or equality and fairness.
Huh? Qualified students are invited for a subjective interview, and then based on the results of this about half of them are given offers.
The US elite university admission system is mostly based on sports performance, personal relationships ('recommendations'), racial balance, obsequious classroom obedience ('grades'), pedigree (more of your school district than of your family, but both count), popularity in desirable cliques ('leadership'), and avoiding working class activities (farming and trade oriented clubs are very bad for your chances). Uniform national tests barely count at all at any stage.
Maybe, but I'm not sure how you can be so sure. It's an in-person conversation; class is very much apparent.
> It would be vanishingly rare not to get an offer for A * A * A * A if one were capable of scoring that well and few offers that I've heard of are for less than AAA.
When I went it was before A* was introduced, and the standard offer was AAB. But only about half of applicants got the offer; it was not "vanishingly rare" but quite common for someone to be rejected by Cambridge but go on to achieve AAA in the exams.
I know that even back in the 70's our head of 6th form at a comprehensive helped the brighter students cram for Oxbridge - that was when you had to have a Latin O level to get in.
In maths interview, they give you an open question of some sort and want you to have a go at it. It's generally trivial and obscure so you cannot know the answer. How do you prepare for that?
It might work in history but simply not in STEM subjects.
I'm sure those other applicants who were turned down in favor of these are fine with it as well
There are many 'coaching centres' all over the place that aim to teach students how to crack the entrance test. Students pretty much spend 3 hrs/day at these coaching centres, and more during the weekends. When I was in school, you had to pass an entrance test just to get into these coaching centres. Now, they even target younger kids from 8th grade onwards.
Unfortunately, all of this just distorts meritocracy in a different way. Obviously, these coaching centres are very expensive, and their students come from families that can afford it. These students get upto 4 years of coaching to teach them to pass the entrance tests. A poor, but intelligent student (who probably attends a sub-par school) does not have access to facilities like this and is at a disadvantage compared to his/her less intelligent peers.
But I do think we can tune the parameters a bit. We can make sure that everyone has access to decent-to-good education, so the talented poor have a fighting chance. We can make the admissions based on some reasonable proxies of ability so the biggest boneheads among the sons of privilege get sorted out. And we can make the system as transparent as possible, so everyone knows what is expected.
With that in mind, I think the current system in the US fails pretty hard on the first criterion -- the worst schools are just awful. It could also improve on the third; what the elite colleges are looking for in admissions, such as "service", isn't at all obvious.
My sense is that the US has constructed a very complicated system that in the end delivers pretty much the standard result. A simpler, clearer system based on plain tests, such as India's, just might be a better solution in the end.
At a guess, they'll do better in life than the ones that didn't make it but not as good as the ones that were honest and made it but I have zero proof for that. It's just that they will get some of the benefits from these colleges but not all of them while the group that didn't make it gets none.
If this is true, then less-than-deserving children will have successfully used their parents' wealth to artificially improve their station in life. Which means that our higher education system is helping to perpetuate class divides (even though it claims to be greatly interested in not doing so).
80% of American households earn less than $100k and if 80% of the students got their education for free that wouldn't work out well for the universities.
Actually, it would work out just fine (for top-tier universities). They can easily survive on the investment returns from their endowments, along with donations from wealthy alumni.
Also, removing the tuition would make them look cheap to their target audience. In reality, a significant majority of students do end up getting financial aid. It just has to be indirect, so it doesn't harm the school's reputation.
I don't know anything about CMU's financial aid system, but in the Ivies, this situation certainly would not have occurred.
I'm amazed this question is being asked. It's obvious that bullshitters do well.
As they move up in life, they will move up in consultants, so long as they have access to the wealth necessary to pay for it.
I myself can't say that 100% of my extracurricular activities were free from wanting to look good for college applications. My GPA was definitely boosted by my somewhat misplaced desire to get into the best university I could possibly get into, rather than through a pure passion for learning. I totally kissed a teacher's butt in one class because 20% of the grade in that class was "participation", and was entirely based on how much said teacher liked you (she was subsequently let go -- private school). I sold my soul in order to get an A in that class.
And I'm definitely not an isolated case.
I felt pretty guilty doing the work at first, but I quickly realized that most of the assignments were so banal that I don't think the clients missed out on much learning value by outsourcing it. Why are college courses giving "major" assignments that can reasonably be completed in 5-10 hours by a smart person with no training in the field? If a college degree just means you banged out a bunch of garbage essays, as it does for many people based on the assignments I saw contracted out, should we really be outraged that some people are not doing the work themselves?
I would argue that the real scandal is not that some people are paying for help, but that many degree programs demand so little in terms of knowledge and thought that they can be easily gamed in this way. I would like to see fluffy degree programs ended, so that legitimate work in the humanities can continue without anyone wasting time and resources shuffling average Joes through the pipeline to middle class office jobs.
The most surprising discovery for me was that it seemed like after foreign language students the heaviest users of the service were education majors. No joke. I never figured out if the noticeably heavy use by education majors was a selection bias caused by the way the service was advertising itself, a sign of especially low ethics among education majors, or an indication that there might be a higher incidence of lifestyle factors (e.g. going to school while working full time) that made it difficult for them to crank out all the BS assignments required of them.
It's also interesting to me that the author of this piece seems to be an independent contractor whose business increased as she became known. Generally, I would expect ghostwriters to want to keep a low profile which makes it hard to be independent. I certainly didn't want anyone knowing how I was paying the bills when I was in it. And unless you are charging top-end rates, the overhead of marketing yourself and picking up envelopes of cash at Starbucks is probably an inefficient use of time. Both of these factors mean that a lot of people end up working for agencies that do the work of finding clients and managing payments, and also provide double blinding. So the writer never knows the identity of the client, and vice versa. It's a pretty good system overall.
which is what I do in my everyday job. And I am not shadow-writing, I am a consultant...Writing ideas that superiors represent as their own, or clients do. I guess this is capitalism, life or something. And someone not worth it has to be promoted before I do, as in the author's case someone has to be admitted for her to live.
Who is to say that the valuable skill she developed wasn't her delegation and management skills, and that those were far more important in the long term than her ability to wax poetically about Plato's Republic?
The fact that she had to write that 5-10%, and do the occasional in class essay, that she did okay in, suggests that not writing the other 90-95% didn't seem to negatively impact her, "Learning Experience."
What I find particularly humorous, of course, is that all these random people, none of whom had taken any of the course work, or background that she presumably had, and many of them without college degrees, were capable of whipping out a paper with a day or two of research (under her guidance, and with a bit of her editing and supplying of facts) that passed muster at Berkeley.
Nobody. It's likely a highly useful skill. However she should not have a degree as she didn't do the work.
It's pretty simple.
Nope. While the people running the degree should take reasonable precautions, it's not on them to entirely prevent people abusing the system. They're running a course, not trying to be the police.
>> Of course there are always ways to game any system, but it shouldn't be quite so easy.
Manipulating multiple people into doing 90% of your work for you over several years is not exactly entry-level cheating.
>> If a reasonably intelligent person who is good at writing can do the work required to get a degree given a few weeks and internet access, then the degree probably needs to be reworked.
I would agree. It doesn't sound much like that happened here though.
However, I don't agree with that comparison in one respect - you typically have plenty of flexibility in college with regards to when you actually complete the assignment. You get it weeks in advance, allowing you to plan things out meticulously, if you're that sort of person.
And this is true - I remember people from college like this. They didn't have the raw brainpower or intelligence that you might expect of a typical high achieving student, but they made up for it with superior time management skills and perennial self discipline.
I've watched her at work, and really, it seems like she's mostly an excel jockey who dresses well, drives a nice vehicle and takes a lot of meetings with vendors.
Honestly - It's not clear to me that she couldn't have done exactly the same thing without her degree - she got a B.S. in Conservation and Resource studies. What she's doing now seems entirely unrelated.
If they actually do that, it'd be considered unethical. While specific credit isn't always given to the originator of an idea, superiors shouldn't pretend they actually had the idea. In many organizations, explicitly passing off an idea as your own would be a pretty serious offense.
There's a big difference between passing someone's idea off as your own, and allowing someone to pass an idea off as their own.
I guess I'm considered "unethical" around these parts, but I stand firmly in the court that the buyer may have ethical issues, but certainly not the seller.
(Yes I'm a bit bitter about high school english courses and college admissions processes favouring good bullshitters. I was still accepted to a good engineering school and had good success job hunting by demonstrating my skills in-person, so it ended well for me anyway.)
As someone reading about this from the other side of the Atlantic, what I'm seeing is an entire system that's corrupt from the top down, with the sort of crazily ridiculous levels of corruption I'm used to reading about in the most dysfunctional of Third World dictatorships. Frankly, unless radical changes are made, I wouldn't be optimistic about how long a society like that can keep coasting along on the momentum of past glory. Ghostwritten essays are the least of the bad behavior generated by the system that creates such terrible incentives.
If you want to call out the unethical behavior of the ghostwriters, fine, but if you want to have a leg to stand on in doing so, do it in the context of also calling out the rotten system that creates their jobs.
This is an intricate topic. On what grounds do you claim this to be wrong? What is the alternative and why is it so much better?
> It lets them receive qualifications that they didn't earn and others who want those qualifications in competition with them, do not receive them.
You are mistaken here. From what I read in the article it seems these admissions essays have little to do with actually picking out the people most qualified for the positions, but rather the people that can hit the reviewers' emotions the hardest.
This is an inadequate system to begin with. Any fault should be placed on the people in charge of the system rather than the individuals trying to wiggle their way through it.
Frakly, I'm disgusted by how our society treats people sometimes.. "You have to be timid yet idealistic, ambitious yet giving, and reserved yet honest" What is this crap? Why can't we let people be what they are? How is this any better than discrimating based on physical properties?
Why should anyone care about anything more than aplicants being honest, faithful/conscientious and qualified?!
> It might just be a mundane 10 hour essay, but that person may not have had the time management skills, writing skills, or will to do it and therefore should not have received the marks that he did
All qualifications required for the titles earned will (or at least should) be taught to the students during the course of their studies. If they lack the time management skills necessary for the degree, the evaluation of their abilities during the course of the studies should make sure they eventually fail. If the students find ways to offset their limitations, then I fail to see any issue. Don't we all have limitations that we eventually need to find ways around?
If they don't find ways around their limitations, and the system still awards them a degree, the blame still lies on the system.
Humans are fallible individuals, and only so much can be done about that. It is processes that should be engineered to perfection, in order to guide the people within them towards making the right choices. Not the other way round.
- It's wrong to help others pass off someone else's work as their own.
- It's wrong to promote a field or degree program that's so shallow that this kind of thing even works.
I'm not exactly sure what you're replying to. I didn't say anything about security - I simply was making the point that participation in this effort is largely unethical.
Because that's precisely the point of a liberal arts or humanities education: to make you able to look at a new field with a modicum of critical thinking & intelligence.
Within the humanities, it is largely irrelevant post-grad what field you actually studied since actually working in that field (usually the only humanities jobs are in academia) means post-grad study. Instead, that field provides a framework for you to learn how to acquire, analyze, and summarize knowledge.
Hence, it's absolutely expected that any educated adult should have no problem writing in an unrelated humanities field, because they've already gone through the system.
This of course doesn't mean a random person can easily write such an essay (hence the demand for ghostwriting services). Many of my high school peers would've flunked out of even a basic college course. Hence, despite its apparent tedium, college does provide an important certification/funnel—even for mid-level office jobs, whose chief qualification is reading and synethsizing reports.
I do hope you understand how it's unethical to aid and abet people in cheating their way through college. This does a disservice to them (they likely won't learn the necessary writing/analysis skills for the workplace), to employers (they might be hiring incompetent writers), and to society (by credentialing the wrong people, potentially driving out smarter/more ethical people). It's ethics 101 that claiming someone else's work as your own is wrong.
> the heaviest users of the service were education majors.
I sadly suspect that has something to do with class dynamics. Education is not very prestigious and (based solely on the ads I see in the subway) is one of the fields (together with "business administration," "IT management", etc.) targeted at low-income/low-ability people who probably don't belong in college at all.
It's also part of the reason most reporting on technical fields is so horrible.
Indeed. Your humanities degree is enough to understand the basics of economics, politics, etc. — but not compilers.
Unfortunately, when technical people do the writing it rarely ends up much better (since most were never taught how to effectively synthesize ideas for a general audience). Hence why I wish more technical programs had larger disciplinary and liberal arts components.
I have some background in econ (my college major) and most mainstream reporting is passable—it's not great, but it at least attempts to have some understanding, as opposed to the mainstream approach to technology (it's basically magic).
Econ, politics, etc. are still in the humanities and many journalism majors will have some GenEd requirements to take those courses. Yet there's zero expectation or requirement of basic technical literacy.
Yes, journalism usually lacks depth and experts from all fields will find something to quibble with. But the understanding gap is much worse in STEM fields because they're kept so far apart from the humanities.
Complete agreement, but there's a paradox here. On the one hand, it would be nice to have journalists able to write for a general audience but also technically knowledgeable enough to avoid most of the common errors journalists make.
On the other is the fact that a student able to absorb technical material sufficient to make him or her a serious journalist, would be strongly motivated to change majors, because of the much higher status and rank of any technical major compared to journalism.
It's why there are so few technically adept college professors -- most who actually understand their subjects have long since jumped ship and are working for Google/Facebook/etc.
Not a huge mystery here; check the average GRE scores by major here (2001-2004, but the general effect is well documented): http://www.ncsu.edu/chass/philo/GRE%20Scores%20by%20Intended... . Data provided is average GRE score in Verbal, Quantitative, and writing sample, for 50 majors. Here are #s 41-50 in verbal, along with some reference points:
1. Philosophy (589)
25. Business - Bank. and Fin. (476)
41. Engineering - Industrial (440)
42. Business - Administration
43. Education - other (437)
44. Home Economics [?!]
45. Education - Special (432)
46. Education - Counseling (428)
47. Social Work
48. Education - Administration (427)
49. Education - Early Childhood (418)
50. Business - Accounting (415)
1. Physics/Astronomy (738)
25. Education - Secondary (577)
41. Education - other (531)
42. Social Sciences - other
43. Education - Elementary (527)
44. Education - Administration (523)
45. Public Administration
46. Education - Special (502)
47. Education - Counseling (500)
48. Home Economics
49. Education - Early Childhood (495)
50. Social Work (468)
Given the inefficiency/pointlessness of much of the effort involved in compulsory education, I'm not sure better teachers would be able to significantly improve the system. We need a structural change here first, and only then start to look around for brigther people. Otherwise, any bright people that may enter the system, will eventually be frustrated, give up, and in the end achieve results (in the field) that are no better than those of the borderline-acceptable teachers.
If you do things this way, the effectiveness of the current people is likely to suffer (in pretty much any area, not education specifically).
> ... the heaviest users of the service were education majors..
Aren't you contributing to the fluffy education problem by creating fluffy educators?
Why are college courses giving "major" assignments that can reasonably be completed in 5-10 hours by a smart person with no training in the field?
Without knowing the assignment, it's because the college students are still growing up. A lot of things that are hard for high school and college students are easy for smart adults. Part of that is because the college students haven't ever done them before and don't know what they can do.
Or maybe the assignments are just crap. That could 100% be true.
Here, you are usually expected to write a paper based on multiple recent papers on a current topic.
The effect is that you get a slew of totally unmotivated, clueless students who slow things down for everyone else. Spanish especially, since it's the "easy" foreign language for English speakers, was overloaded with students who had no desire to be there, at least until you made it to the 5th semester and beyond classes.
I read that to mean foreign nationals (non-native English speakers), not students studying foreign languages (which rarely have long essays for introductory courses). That people with poor English skills would use ghostwriting services (like the article author's clients) seems pretty intuitive.
Nope, but you would expect them not to reveal their clients.
It would be like a Chinese ghost writer crafting a touching tale of an American kid's mom having to work double shifts in a KTV bar only to return home one night and find that her husband's chou tofu stand had been confiscated by the Chengguan.
PS - I liked the article :)
For me, my essay was the difference in attending the likes of Harvard - my essay was egregiously bad, and it was explained to me by the director of admissions of one Ivy League school via a family friend who was a professor at that same university as the primary reason for rejecting me, even though by all other metrics I was an almost stellar candidate, even out of those they typically admitted.
I wonder how many people have gamed the system like such, and what effect has it had on the lives of those who would have otherwise attended those schools? For me, I have miraculously succeeded in my path, although it was a pretty unique one - the confidence I built before college in my abilities helped me overcome the setback. There are many people not so fortunate though.
We probably will never know the true effects of such unintended gaming, but it goes to show that people shouldn't take as much stock in the school someone attended but their pure mind in industry.
Good for you for having that attitude, of course, but that's such a foreign state of mind to me. I stumbled across the finish line in high school and self-destructed in college. Things have worked out but I wonder what even a small change in state of mind would have done for me as an adolescent.
I ended up attending a state school, applying last minute in April.
No one hired a ghost writer, all of them wrote their own essays, but in all cases the consultant asked them to rewrite 5 or 6 times, at least. There it is where it seems to exist the ethical line: ghost writer, no good; rewrite yourself until every single sentence is exactly like the consultant wants, good.
It is easy to see that both are equally fake essays. All consultants say: "don't even bother about trying to be original or clever. Your only goal is to write exactly what the admission people want to read". And it works.
It would take an extremely exceptional high schooler to navigate that all alone.
Or perhaps, if admissions offices are looking for exactly that story, all the consultants are just trying to produce exactly what they'd write naturally? :-)
Soliciting help, even if it is for pay, is not against the rules to my memory. I know I had friends and family read my essays.
Maybe in a way that doesn't matter since it is not really part of the curriculum, but when I took a biology class at a community college, the professor talked about, I don't know, curving the grade or something and people in the class made some comment about "hey, just give us all A's without requiring us to learn anything" or something like that -- in other words, they were just there to tick off a box towards a sheepskin. And I spoke up to say "Um, what if you actually need to know this for a later class or even a job?"
Yeah, I have always been a party-pooper like that. But, seriously, some folks just want the sheepskin and do not care if they earned it and some folks want the know-how and sort of don't care so much about the public credibility thing. I tend to be in the latter category, and sometimes wonder how much that is to my benefit and how much to my detriment. I know how to accomplish all kinds of things but I seem to mostly suck at getting any kind of credit, credibility, decent pay, that sort of thing.
That's definitely where the ethical line is, and makes total sense. Nearly all professional writing you read (books, magazines, etc.) has gone through a similar process between the writer & editor. It's totally expected, but nobody pretends it's not still the author's work. There are thousands of ways to write the same essay, hundreds of which are "good" (acceptable by the editor/consultant). But a ghostwriter only writes it one of those hundred ways, which is almost certainly not the one you would have picked.
It also comes down to a quest of fairness. My public school counselor happily read over a couple essay drafts. They never would have written one for me (that would have required hiring a ghostwriter, which I definitely couldn't afford).
I hope you can see the difference.
It is more like this: the consultant make the interview, just like the ghost writer, to know what to write about. Then the consultant tells the applicant to write about "this, this and that. In this way, and don't forget to mention this and this".
Then the aplicant write it. The consultant read it all and says: "this sentence is out of place, you don't need this one, you must include another one on this paragraph". And this go on and on, 5, 6 or even 10 times. Keep in mind that these are essays of one or two pages. The end result has nothing to do with any original writing from the applicant. It is more like a dictation.
Change the ... to "HS teacher" or "professor" or "TA" and this is a good summary of a writing class.
Should you tell the truth "I love CS and play it in all my spare time, I'm obsessed with it and usually don't get enough sleep for school because I'm so committed staying up late at night shooting people" or tell a story about an incident at the beach that makes it look like you have amazing management skills? Who knows!
University selection is ridiculous and I support any attempt to bring fairness to it like these services.
I feel like the university staff are fools being deceived by this nonsense. That they actually give weigh to the application essay shows they're not making a fair decisions.
Well-heeled parents who dote on their children, and who regard a college education as an absolute must, represent a formidable natural force to be reckoned with. They will always think of a way to see their children treated with favor. "I'm donating ¥100,000,000 for your library. Oh, by the way, have you met my son?"
> That they actually give weigh to the application essay shows they're not making a fair decisions.
Any sign employers have started to focus less on recruiting at the most prestigious schools? And if they're not looking there, where are they looking?
Come to think of it, where are the founders accepted by YC coming from?
You're required to use all of your free time, and then a little more, to demonstrate that you have initiative and grit, that you don't need to sleep adequately or spend time on anything other than the "right" activities. Roughly analogous to taking hard classes and participating in lots of activities. Colleges don't want you "hanging out," and Facebook doesn't want you sailing or running a community theater group or raising kids or something, they want you sharpening your skills. Both employers and colleges are basically looking at, "how many hours per week do you spend on impressing us?" Proving that you ran a chronic sleep deficit and had no more than a couple of hours downtime outside of what they want to see gets you past the first cut.
Then, to make the next cut, the quality of the code you write needs to be exceptionally high (indicating that you really invested the time and that whatever your cognitive function declined to was still great.) Is your code elegant and clever? Did you write painstakingly thorough tests? Is everything perfectly documented? This is roughly analogous to having stellar grades in your AP/honors/advanced classes.
Next, as a tie-breaker, they look for interestingness. Were the apps you wrote/clubs you started innovative? Did they merely demonstrate that you are generally good at things, or did they actually make an impact on the world? (There is generally a field on the applications to elite colleges for you to submit your published, peer-reviewed scientific papers. As a 17-year-old.) That may fast-track you to the top, but lacking it won't necessarily kill you unless you're elbowed out by people who do have it.
And finally, the interview/essays. Do you write exceptionally well? Are you well-spoken? Do we like you? Do you seem like one of us? Colleges use this to keep the common threads they're interested in (at my alma mater, it's no accident that every single one of us identifies, whether obnoxiously or quietly, as an intellectual, and as much as we complain, being surrounded by people like that is kind of exactly what we're paying for). Then they create the distributions they're looking for in other elements of personality (i.e. we have to reject some bassoon virtuosos to make room for the virtuoso cellists, and we're going to need to sprinkle in a few outgoing socialites to keep the awkward nerds from killing themselves.) Though I guess some employers and possibly colleges are only going for homogeneity - the IBM of old is notorious.
It seems that basically every college and/or employer is oriented towards behaving this way, but the defining characteristic of the elite communities (whether they are corporations or universities) is that they are closer to filling their slots without "settling" on anyone.
The composition of applicant pools between institutions is not random or uniform. Certain schools only have a profile in more-intellectual circles, and I imagine it's the same with tech companies. A school may have a 2% acceptance rate among an applicant pool whose median ACT is 15. Or a school may have a 75% acceptance rate because only the overachiever children of academically elite families and school systems have heard of it. So eliteness is not necessarily acceptance rate, but more like "lack of settling."
Recruiting activity may be focused on places where smart people are likely to be more dense, but it does seem that some companies are starting to play "admissions counselor" for themselves when evaluating applicants, looking at GitHub rather than your degree.
The tricky thing is that github profiles don't always make obvious the amount of real, quality code someone is producing. It's often hidden away in private company repos, or, on the other hand, appears to be an impressive list of contributions but when you investigate it is mostly minor changes and grammar/typo pull requests.
The part about interviewing the applicants made me wonder whether there is any fact checking of essays, or whether there will be in the future. The story about being poor and having your clothes stolen from a laundromat is a real tearjerker, but if the admissions officer knows that you're the child of China's 99th richest business magnate, I doubt it would help.
One of the most common problems was just about bridging the gap between Chinese/Western expectations - Chinese reference letters are sometimes pages long, and filled with flowery and extravagant language to describe the candidate, whereas a Western reference letter would be concise, professional and often maybe just 2-3 short paragraphs.
The irony of course is that the scions of empires and children of privilege who are being groomed for leadership essentially get a free pass at admissions. (Which has a sort of logic when you consider that they form the backbone of the class power network almost immediately upon graduation).
(As an HBS graduate I have mixed feelings about the overall privilege distribution, but admit to having no plausible suggestions of how to address it.)
Having known many peers at HBS, I highly doubt the truth of your claim. It seems extremely biased based on your own background. Do you have any evidence?
You can see the admissions essay requirements on the linked page.
Surely, there are people in the world who are not destitute and who don't feel like they are selling their soul?
Indeed, I think it's a lot easier to be financially successful doing something that you find energizing rather than soul-sucking.
I do believe, though, that you are unlikely to get maximum dollars and maximum joy from the same job. Many terrible jobs pay more because they have to. E.g., I used to work in finance, which was lucrative but awful. Whereas many nonprofits get great people at relatively modest salaries because they are, in effect, paying people in meaning. So a lot of the people I know who are happy with both their jobs and their paychecks do it by living more modestly than they could if they were only about the benjamins.
Yup! I make great money and also strongly believe in what I'm doing (building a platform to showcase great writing).
She's helping people cheat their way into college. The soul-crushing nature of that is absolutely appropriate, and hopefully a mechanism for ending her unethical ways.
Cuz, I sure wouldn't hire anybody on here who is condoning or defending in any way cheating in school, even in the most oblique way.
Hillary Clinton and Ronald Reagan (and many others) had their autobiographies ghostwritten  and no one seems to really care. The definition of "autobiography" means a biography of yourself, written by you. So why do we hold different standards to academia as opposed to non-academia?
When you hire a web designer to design a website, you aren't obligated to credit the designer (if the designer doesn't mind).
I can certainly see why copying someone's essay or test answers would be cheating, and should be penalized. In a standardized curriculum the students should become proficient at the subject matter by the degree program. Allowing students to cheat would lessen the value of the degree and thus no one would want to attend that school.
But ghostwriting for college admissions? It's doing whatever you can to increase your odds of acceptance. Some people pay money for test prep (most of which is just vocabulary drilling). Some people pay money for "college counseling." Some people pay money for personal statements.
Some commenters here are saying that ghostwriting personal statements makes it unfair for the lower-income families, but test prep is definitely not cheap. SAT prep could go anywhere from $500 to $1000, for a weekend course. No lower-income family could afford SAT prep, so if we view ghostwriting as "unfair" then test prep should be unfair by the same logic.
If someone doesn't want to hire me because we hold different views on the definition of cheating, then I respect the person's opinion but I certainly wouldn't want to be hired due to too many clashes of views most likely.
Easily explained. Ghostwriting in academia is a violation of academic ethics, a basis for expulsion or withdrawal of a granted degree. Ghostwriting in the everyday world is accepted, indeed it's not uncommon to see a ghostwriter's name alongside the putative author's name on the book's cover. In fact, that represents the only acceptable use of a ghostwriter, by simply acknowledging his contribution.
> No lower-income family could afford SAT prep, so if we view ghostwriting as "unfair" then test prep should be unfair by the same logic.
Yes, there's some logic there, but ghostwriting doesn't expose the student to the material to be learned, but test prep does. One might even argue that all classroom time is test prep.
I addressed the academic ethics part in my post. But ghostwriting for a personal statement? Some employers will definitely look at some projects/essays you did for the completion of the degree if they are relevant to the job (making cheating in that sense impractical), but I've never heard of any employers asking for the personal statement that got them accepted into a college.
> ghostwriting doesn't expose the student to the material to be learned, but test prep does
Personal statements don't have any material to be learned to begin with. I don't have anything to back up this statement, as this is all anecdotal, but those who spend more time preparing for a test are more likely to do better, as much of test prep is simply rote memorization/practice. A bad writer writing a personal statement can spend weeks writing his personal statement and it can still be crap, but a good writer writing a personal statement can produce a pretty good first draft.
Some will say that a bad writer should send the personal statement to a proofreader or editor, but then comes the question--where do we draw the line between proofreader/editor and ghostwriter? The experiences in the final product are likely to be the submitter's own experiences (unless the ghostwriter adds his/her own experiences as in this article), but much of the content will certainly not be from the submitter's first draft.
What's the difference between sending a first draft to an editor and having them add eloquent language and coherent stories, and sending a few basic facts/experiences to a ghostwriter? Is it the percentage of original content?
I also wonder how much I'm kidding when I say that.
There is one reason why this is wrong. When you participate in this kind of business, you are helping to perpetuate inequality in the world and making it less meritocratic, one essay at a time.
No need to expound on that I'm sure college educated minds capable of forging essays for profit will get my gist.
"Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here's an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there's no market for startup ideas suggests there's no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless."
So a decent heuristic to see if something is able to be gamified is to look for potential hidden black markets to see if it possible, then you see see how to invest your time. In this case it seems like it would be the best choice to hire someone on an opportunity cost basis.
This is the dirty trick of supposed meritocracy: if a whole lot of people have merit enough, then picking among them becomes an inflationary contest in irrelevances. Those people tricking their way past the grind are really doing nothing different than buying a pre-leveled WoW character, it isn't actually harder to play at the higher level, you just get more swag and bigger battles.
It was interesting the author indicated the ethnicity of their background in the US. These Chinese masters of OP, who mentioned they were Korean-American where Koreans are looked down upon heavily by China and their adopted country the US, are already well aware that money alone is the primary and only necessary motivator in a capitalist economy and country.
The US' only interest in the Korean peninsula is to use it as a point of interaction with the Chinese. These Koreans are not only bootstrapped into being intermediary, but a 'bridge', which both the Chinese and Americans liberally walk all over. It is a bit of a shame the US allowed the victimization the Koreans suffered to be exploited shamelessly by both Americans and the Chinese. The hint of not finding respite, but only exploitation in their adopted land the US, is very telling of the Korean condition.
"I don’t know what I was expecting in return from the student. Would my client feel the pain of the story and then question the ethics of using another person’s life as an admissions essay? Would she call me and thank me for cutting out a personal part of my heart for her? Later, I received a one-word email from her: “Thanks.” The message stung. I thought about the itchy Goodwill sweater and how much itchier it had felt as I cried after my classmate mocked me. I had given up a private piece of myself for the bargain price of $400. I logged off and shut down my laptop."
Also interesting to see how individuals seem to internalize the dynamics of the larger systems they operate within. What's more void: someone engaging in such a behavior as the author in this system or similar behavior in other systems, or any system that incentivizes such behavior through various mechanisms that people who (or would like to) consider themselves not destitute/sellout/whatever-flavor-of-the-day, live their lives by and submit themselves to? I posit neither or both…
If only this could actually be used...it definitely serves the purpose of an admission essay (namely, that the author is an excellent writer and clearly intelligent).
Sadly, Sweden is almost entirely group projects, so I think they just got carried through by colleagues despite not being qualified in the slightest. It was frustrating and sad. There were definitely some very smart Chinese people too who should have been there. But I feel bad for the people whose spot they took who might have actually been qualified.
> In one admissions cycle, I wrote over a hundred essays and earned enough money to pay my bills for the rest of the year, pay off my car loan, and—as a treat for my hardworking hands—receive $150 Japanese manicures on a biweekly basis.
> At the end of every writing season, I always swear I will quit, but I’m still broke with no idea about the shape of my future.
Either she's a great writer, and horrible at managing her finances, or she is lying. No?
This is an interesting bit. Why do that?
Standard economic theory would suggest increasing prices (and thus margins) as demand increases, rather than actually work more (and thus decrease margins).
As to proof-reading and consultants, more power to them. Everyone should bounce their work at professionals in the area, before publishing it. It is a very good practice.
That's ¥2,500.00. The current median Chinese income is ¥63,875 ($10,220). So one essay produces 4% of a typical annual income, for what might only be a few hours' work.
Twenty essays, and you're approaching the median income of your harder-working neighbors.
If all the other metrics are aligned, why does one need to hire a professional writer?
factory tycoon’s daughters
tycoon's daughters - the group of daughters, each of whom belongs to a tycoon
tycoons' daughters - the group of daughters, who are something that belongs to the whole class of tycoons
The choice really changes the extent to which it's the daughters or the tycoons being described.
You could certainly argue it's incorrect, but that's a philosophy of grammar that I think makes writing less interesting.
Despite the edits, it was not at all contrived. Nothing was made up, and it was based on an actual 270-mile hike I did.
Ended up doing pretty well for me too (lots of Ivy acceptances).
Total cost of my actual application process: $50 (for some registration fee).
Yes, ethics and all that long interpretative jazz. Give the author credit for taking one step forward, but the money was the motivator. It is the motivator for these kids and their folks to go to the author, for the author to do something unethical, and for the admissions committees to turn a blind eye. The incentives are just too strong here. Follow the money.
But why? Why are people spending perfectly good coins on this system? Why are they working long days and weekends to make their kids work long days and weekends at 16 years of age? Why did the author work for them? Why do the admissions do this work, make these easily faked essay requirements that they have to then read? Why? Where is the money going?
I don't have a prefect answer, but I do know that Hope and dreams, and all that gummy stuff is the reason. It's a 'get your's' mentality that extends to the family and the children. 'I don't care if my kid cheats, because it's my kid, not your's' Anyone with a semblance of brain will put 2 and 2 together and realize this cannot last. If everyone cheats, then you ruined the world you were trying to get you child into. You are your own worst enemy in this regard. You have no money to follow.
And, from reading a lot of the comments here, it seems we are about 30-50% of the way there. We can do the stats there on this tragedy of the commons, but a tipping point has been reached: You'd be a fool to be honest, and now even the biggest dupes know it. Follow the money.
So what then? The admissions departments know it, or will have to formally recognize it in about 5-7 years. Then the cat really is out of the bag. And what happens then? It's an arms race like any other. Those with the pockets that reach past the shoes are the only winners. We have see this before may times in history (the exam system of China is most instructive, whole villages had to produce the funds to take the tests, Villages!). And, bob's you uncle, we end up back where we were 200 years ago. Follow the money.
Ahh, but no. HNers know better. The internet disrupts everything. It not only levels the field, it makes it inverted. The recent hack of phones, systems and anyone's computer make that world of coin and cash impossible. Admissions committees, even 20 years ago, were saying that it was effectively chance at getting into Stanford. The next 30 sets of classes were just as good as the one they accepted, it was luck. There is no money to follow with luck.
So, again, the internet comes into play. We have 30 sets of Stanford students, young people with brains, smarts and access to at least enough capital to get through the tests. Yes, do your stats, but you still get more real smart kids than there are elite colleges to get into, thanks to the internet. Pretty soon, and we're talking under a century, these places get a bad rap, as the admissions just can't keep up and never will. The lesser, the newer, the smaller schools, hell even places that aren't real schools, they get going. The entire idea of an elite school gets to be passe. Why, because the selectivity and the cash just don't make sense to go there. Follow the money.
So, we get something that is very different than what we had before. The cash, the aristocracy, it means less. Because money means less. Because status means less, because who the hell cares you went to Harvard or Cal. It's chance getting there anyways. Why waste all the coin and those August Saturday nights of your youth? The money won't make sense there, because the status is eroded, because the internet tells us it's all a lotto anyways, because the admissions departments can't pretend anymore that it's not aristocracy, because the internet tells us, because the coin did make sense before we all knew better. Follow the money.
Is this what we've come to?
EDIT: Oh Fucking ??, guys what is up with the downvotes? This is just idiotic.
If you disagree, voice it. It's ok, perhaps I am mistaken, enlighten me. But downvoting without giving a comment is like telling me I am wrong without giving me a direction.
"You wouldn't laugh at someone who was going the wrong direction if you could correct them, would you?"
Now as far as the this article, paying for someone to write essays is not particular to China. I did this for some people. IN. THE. US. People do this for others in other countries. The article could have still held its value without the Chinese part. It sounds condescending.
The system is broken if it cannot distinguish between a fraudulent essay and real one and is using that measure as integral for admissions. Many universities have specialized questions (almost as a CAPTCHA) to make sure students are serious about applying there. Test scores, teacher evaluations, and an applicant's résumé are often much more important criteria.
I'm sure she wouldn't turn down $400 from anyone, but she makes it pretty clear throughout the essay that the vast majority of her clients are the children of wealthy Chinese.
>many Chinese people choose to write their own.
No one is saying that all Chinese students pay someone to write their essays.
> Test scores, teacher evaluations, and an applicant's résumé are often much more important criteria.
True, but these are easily gamed too if you've got the money, especially in these cases where distance and language barriers makes everything harder to verify.
I remember when this article was linked on HN a whole bunch of people felt the need to point out that chimps are not smarter than Britons. Of course a similar effect occurs when people who identify with other things think they are under attack.