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I Ghostwrite Chinese Students' Ivy League Admissions Essays (vice.com)
282 points by misiti3780 on Aug 31, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments



As a Chinese student who applied to US grad schools 2 years ago, this story is interesting and somewhat sad to me, even though I always know such ghostwriting exists in China.

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.


It is an oversimplification to link "Chinese students are usually very weak on independent thinking" to "many Chinese students fail to make the best use of their time here".

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.


First of all - wow, what a talented writer. No wonder her clients have done so well.

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.


I was paid $50/hour for quite some time to do "marketing consulting" for a company started by a douchebag studying at Harvard. It was vaguely interesting work, and I over delivered on every expectation, but grew tired of his increasingly demanding explanations (pages long at times) of why I did what I did and who the market was. Those two questions were asked of me obsessively.

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.


In a similar vein, one of my bosses at a major investment bank would gleefully tell interns about how, in undergrad, while working part-time for a Congressman, he would call up the Congressional Research Service and commission reports that he would later doctor up and hand in as term papers


Weren't you tempted to inform the professor?


I assume he was getting his degree in "management".


Please tell me you reported him to the professor?


What? That's a crazy story.


> 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.

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.


Idealistically, these aren't things that you're "supposed" to do. You're not supposed to live your life to get into good schools. Admissions counselors will tell you this explicitly. They want you to what you would normally do, and if you happen to be exceptional, they'll pick you. You should also never assume that you or your child actually has any business being academically exceptional. That's just statistical fact.

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.


That is absurd on at least two levels. First of all, I really do not get "you are not supposed to prep for standardized tests" attitude. You prepare for graded exams in school, if you prepare for them you get better grades. But, for some weird reason, I should not prepare for ACT, although that one is much more important for future? If I will train writing essays within 20 minutes I will get better score then if I do not. Why is a student that does not care about it in advance behaving "as supposed to" then the one who cares?

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.


A school that explicitly stated they only want the kids of the upper classes could just say they want rich white kids, but they'd be savaged in the media for admitting the truth.

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.


It's hard to see how this levels the playing field in practice. The "bright lower-income students" you mention don't have access to these expensive services.


These admissions consultants are a lot more attainable than the Ivy-league family members that would be able to give the same guidance.


The real problem is that they don't know the game, which is most of the battle.


Not necessarily true. I personally know 2 Ivy League grads from low income families who, through a combination of luck and high standardized test scores, lucked into a position of getting this kind of counseling. Lots of consultants do some amount of pro bono. Most poor kids wouldn't know to ask, though.


I would imagine it's a heck of a lot cheaper to hire a consultant than it is to live in an area with public schools that will "naturally" provide the opportunities required for a bright student to get into a great school.


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?

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.


I think that's stupid, and gives an unfair advantage to people from more educated and/or connected backgrounds. Instead of blaming admissions consultants, I'd blame the colleges using these bullshit proxy metrics.


But that's really the case either way, it's possible that having known metrics gives an even greater advantage to those who are economically well off as violin tuition gets more expensive due to rising demand.

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.


It's more than just grade inflation -- in high schools across the united states the quality of courses vary so much as to be incomparable. Suppose you and I are both taking the most advanced English classes our schools offer. If I get an A and you get a B, but you're in a high school with just 300 people in it and I'm in a high school with 3000 people, I have no idea which grade 'means' more.


Theoretically, those grades should "mean" the same, because they should be measures on an absolute scale. What matters ins the quality of the school, which is not directly tied to the number of students at it.


Agreed that the quality of the school is really the fundamental determiner of grades. In the original comment I considered adding in a suggestion that a larger school could support more levels of classes, but it felt clunky so I just left it out. Of course, schools can be good and bad for many reasons orthogonal to their size. A small school might be a magnet school drawing the top students of a larger area. Or it might be a rural area which has a hard time recruiting teachers.


That, and because public school populations aren't nearly homogenous enough. See Canadian schools and UT for examples of grades not doing a good job keeping incoming student quality uniform (and necessitating remedial programs, which have their own issues).


"I'd blame the colleges using these bullshit proxy metrics."

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.


The metrics are bad even before the gaming. Take volunteer work, for example. In theory, they're selecting for people who show a concern for others. In reality, they emphasize organized, secular volunteer work. So they give points for the sort of stupid, futile service projects upper middle class kids do for photo-ops in Africa, but not points for taking care of aging family members, community involvement through the church, etc.

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.


I'd say it's part of the same discussion if colleges continue to use metrics after they have been gamed of predictive value and now measure something else.


Blame is not exclusive. In a chain of idiocy, you can point fingers at every idiot.

Hate the player and the game. Without players, there is no game.


I find these admissions games silly too but what process could you use that is ungameable and can filter or rank candidates?


Standardised tests administered in exam conditions.

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.


Most kids still think the SATs are an IQ test. Rich kids know how much you need to prepare and often start years in advance.


Exactly but I see nothing wrong with this.

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.


Oxford and Cambridge professors are conducting multiple technical interviews with each candidate for centuries for both domestic and international students.

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.


> And today C and O admit based on comprehensive objective tests just like almost all of the world's elite universities outside the USA.

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 subjective interview is academic, not a tally of your social contacts and social class. Then the "offer" is conditional on your performance on comprehensive objective subject examinations. 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.

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.


> The subjective interview is academic, not a tally of your social contacts and social class.

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.


And there is a cottage industry in helping students perform well in those interviews its why public schools who know how the game is played do so well in getting their students into Oxbridge.

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.


That's cool. I wish I had a headmaster who can prepare me for an interview in which I ended up discussing project euler questions, prolog, how jpeg works and how the way humans sort relate to how computers sort.

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.


Err its more the soft aspects and confidence and knowing the unwritten rules they are coaching - you no longer need basic Latin to go to Oxford or Cambridge.


Exactly but I see nothing wrong with this.

I'm sure those other applicants who were turned down in favor of these are fine with it as well


u must be a communist, right?


I'm not sure if you're joking or not but in case you're not this mindset is exactly what happened under communist regimes where children of the inner "party members" were given every advantage possible over their "prol" counterparts. But no, destroying an ecosystem you depend on in the long term and subsequently your future with it because some cynical foreign money-bags type holds out a few extra dollars they no doubt obtained through lucrative government connections is a great example of ... what is it you would call the counter-example of what you think the above poster is? A capitalist?


At a great risk of going back into the lands of negative rep, let me a) warmly welcome you here, and b) admit that I was, indeed, joking and quite sympathetic to the poster above me; cheers from Soviet Russia ;)


Yes, I am a communist for thinking that complete dishonesty in an admissions essay of all things is pitiful and wrong. Same goes towards those who had theirs heavily edited by family members/friends/consultants etc..


We have an extreme case of the merit system here in India. Students who are trying to get into the IITs are judged solely on a composite score of their IIT entrance test results + school final exam results.

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.


Whatever we do, the elite of a generation from now will consist largely of the children of the current elite. The path to the good life is challenging because there is a lot of competition, good advice and careful preparation help a lot in getting there, and the people in the best position to provide that advice and preparation are the ones who have already made it.

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.


The big question then is how do they make out in real life afterwards compared to their honest brothers & sisters who also entered those same colleges and compared to those that didn't make the cut because of them.

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.


> 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

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).


Legacy admissions (which is alive and well at my alma mater) definitely helps to perpetuate this as well.


That's true, but legacy admissions is out in the open - universities acknowledge the existence of the practice. But the inequality created by ghostwriting and admissions coaching is particularly pernicious because it occurs through a system that the universities claim is meant and supposed to give everyone an equal shot.


Of course it does. Look at the price of tuition. That perpetuates class divides more than any other factor.


The top universities (such as those in the Ivy League) typically give full financial aid to any admitted student who comes from a middle or lower class socioeconomic background. The "tuition problem" primarily exists at mediocre private universities (as well as those public universities that have significantly hiked tuition in recent years) which depend on squeezing every last penny from their students.


This is absolutely true and often shocks applicants that I meet in alumni interviews (although some know it well). Most of the Ivy League offers a full ride (as an official policy) for students who come from families with <$100k/year in income. This is not merit-based, it's need-based. It's a nasty misconception of "anti-elitists" that the Ivy League is only for the rich (although as others have pointed out there are certainly legacy biases and donation biases that get some in + a need to have a certain percentage of paying students).


But then the students are still partitioned among those that needs to have elite grades to get in and those that can pay their way. Either it is a fair system or it is not -- there is no middle ground.

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.


> 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.


Then why don't they offer all their programs for free? It would be very good pr and they would get many more donations.


Because they don't have to? Their goal isn't to create good PR, its to cement themselves as a rite of passage for the wealthy, intelligent, and influential. They don't really care what the plebs think about them, they just want to make sure that the select few coming from lower or middle class backgrounds but have the abilities necessary to move up in society are interested in attending their school. And those people are generally aware of the financial aid situation, or will at least apply and then find out about the financial aid situation if they're accepted.

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.


Not necessarily true. My family made about that amount, but went without some luxuries and saved for my (and my sister's) high school ($25k/yr) and college ($45k/yr). There were a few years where tuition+room+board for my sister and I was more than their after-tax income. And no, we don't have a large amount of wealth from a previous generation, my parents started near zero just a couple years before I was born. But we never got any financial aid. I had friends who's parents made more, but got 50% financial aid. The financial aid system would appear to be just another bullshit-gamed system.


I was speaking about a very specific financial aid situation present at several of the Ivy League universities - I don't understand why you would construe my comment to be applicable generally? Did you go to a school that specifically has a tuition is free for families with <100k/year policy?


> There were a few years where tuition+room+board for my sister and I was more than their after-tax income

I don't know anything about CMU's financial aid system, but in the Ivies, this situation certainly would not have occurred.


A few Ivy League universities offering full financial aid doesn't prevent the perpetuation of class divides. The other problem is that even at most Ivy League universities, a lot of this aid is in the form of loans, something that also favors the rich.


> The big question then is how do they make out in real life afterwards

I'm amazed this question is being asked. It's obvious that bullshitters do well.


>>> The big question then is how do they make out in real life afterwards

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.


While the college consultants certainly increased the number of such students, such students have always existed, at least in the past couple of decades.

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.


Really interesting piece. In my post-college lull, I was once in a major financial bind and ended up doing a brief stint as an academic ghostwriter. I wrote term papers, not admission essays, for a ghostwriting service over a period of about 2 months. The work was easy and the money was good.

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.


I really appreciate your honesty and the knowledge you shared here, but I fear your rationalizations about why what you did is not unethical are just that - rationalizations. It's wrong to do others work for them and let them represent it as their own, no matter how mundane the subject matter. It lets them receive qualifications that they didn't earn and others who want those qualifications in competition with them, do not receive them. 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. On the other hand, if you didn't do it, somebody else would - but again that's a rationalization!


"It's wrong to do others work for them and let them represent it as their own"

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.


Your ideas and work product are the ideas and work product of the organization, which your superiors represent... different kettle of fish.


I had a friend who got her degree from UC Berkeley, and maybe wrote 5-10% of her work, she had other people (Friends, Lovers, colleagues) write all the others - she was a master of manipulation.

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.


>> 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?

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.


True. But the question is, if she is able to get the degree easily with skills the degree is not meant to require, is there something wrong with the degree itself? If there was a sysadmin certification you could pass with knowledge of cooking and a little luck then the certification is flawed. Of course there are always ways to game any system, but it shouldn't be quite so easy. 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.


>> But the question is, if she is able to get the degree easily with skills the degree is not meant to require, is there something wrong with the degree itself?

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.


Management and manipulation are not the same, although the successful management may require some manipulation. Good managers do more then just manipulate a bunch of people into doing managers work. I have seen managers like that and they are useless to organization. They just suck up money and time, although they personally may be doing good. We do not want the schools to produce more people like that.


I went to Georgia Tech, which is considered a difficult school (though I personally believe it is not as tough as Berkeley). The most difficult part was that you had exams and assignments in several subjects at once. Life would have been really easy if we had just one class per semester; most of the individual papers weren't extraordinarily difficult. A couple of days research sounds reasonable for about 50% of the assignments I wrote, but you'd be shocked to see the dip in quality if you can only find 2 hours to spend on it instead.


This is different from any university how?


I think his point is that the "master of manipulation" at Berkeley was able to get satisfactory work from people who didn't even have a college degree only because they didn't have enough to simultaneously work on multiple assignments (and could therefore dedicate a lot of time to one assignment). So the difference between one of them and a good college student is just the throughput, rather than a fundamental difference in the ability to complete the assignment in the first place.

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.


How did it turn our for her? Is that strategy working for her after college as well?


Good question. She has a degree from Cal., so that opens doors for her. Last I checked she was VP of marketing for a chain of Valero gas stations in California. Much of her work seems to consist of negotiating large sums of money from various vendors for placing their products/refrigerators at key locations in their stores. It's astonishing what a generic-brand ice-cream vendor will pay a gas station to replace Hagen Daz with their brand of ice-cream.

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.


You've pretty much identified her with this description. Did you mean to?


It's a classic sign of sociopathy, so at a guess she's either a CEO or in prison.


Sounds like she will do well in Management to me.


People belong in organisations, have roles in organisations, but also act within organisations and with reference to their organisations. The assertion of representation is not always valid, and I am sure many people get the context of what I am suggesting here. Now, in the admissions process of the example, an organisation (ad-hoc but valid) is also present and the paying applicant represents the financial relationship they built with their shadow writer. Why is the ethical context different when we consider mystic, gargantuan organisations than when we consider rich, clueless teenagers?


> Writing ideas that superiors represent as their own, or clients do.

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.


No, it'd be business as usual. It is exactly how things are expected to work in industry. Industry is not academia, and crediting the originator of the idea is not a concern. Especially when it makes you look bad (why couldn't you come up with this? etc.)


I don't know what you mean by "industry." I don't think there are many generalizations that hold true between, say, government contractors and internet startups. Also, many companies have their own cultures - deliberately so.


>It'd be considered unethical

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.


It's probably fair if those degrees / professions which are based on bullshit essays have a lot of bullshit graduates / good-looking applicants.

(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.)


It's okay to point fingers at unethical behavior. It's not okay to do it that selectively.

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.


> It's wrong to do others work for them and let them represent it as their own

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 not either/or. They could both be in the wrong here:

- 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.


Security is up to the grantor of the certification. It really can't be any other way. Asking students to be ethical is worthwhile, but it's sort of like the pull-out method of contraception - just not very effective.


You are mistaking security and ethics. Yes, it is up to the university to make sure that people aren't cheating. No, that it no way makes it ethical to cheat.


>Security is up to the grantor of the certification.

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.


I see, I was confused about your point. I jumped to the conclusion that you were arguing a qualification implied an ethical standard.


What is your ethical opinion on paid tutors?


> 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?

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.


> 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.

It's also part of the reason most reporting on technical fields is so horrible.


> 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 assume it's not enough to understand the basics of economics or politics either. Everyone I know who is an expert or professional says that mainstream journalism generally makes a mess of their field. As a computer programmer, I know this is true of for things like computer security. I have heard it's true from chemists, astronomers, educators, mathematicians, biologists, and even automobile hobbyists. I generally operate under the assumption that it's true for every field.


> I assume it's not enough to understand the basics of economics or politics either.

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.


> 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.

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.


> 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.

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)
Here are the same in Quantitative:

     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)
There are four education majors which don't make the bottom 20% cutoff: Education - Secondary, Education - Higher, "Education - Curr. & Instr.", and "Education - Eval. & Res.". They hold ranks 21, 30, 32, 37 (V) and 25, 34, 35, 39 (Q). So to sum up -- it's a "lifestyle" factor; it's harder for education majors to crank out their assignments because, compared to other students, they're not very smart. What you're seeing is not lesser ethics but greater need.


That's really sad when you think about it. It implies, on average, our minimum viable college students go into education. Not our best and brightest. Who ends up being the majority of the people teaching our children? Probably those same people.


I agree this is sad. On the other hand however one needs to consider how much is really lost this way.

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.


> We need a structural change here first, and only then start to look around for brighter people.

If you do things this way, the effectiveness of the current people is likely to suffer (in pretty much any area, not education specifically).


Another way to put it, is the problem is located in the area of "Education - Administration" not front line teachers.


Yup, it's an acknowledge problem (though most politicians avoid coming out an admitting that most teachers aren't very bright). Considering where education falls in the pay spectrum for college graduates (near the bottom), it should be no surprise that our "best and brightest" go in to tech, finance, and consulting—never education.


This. I love working with students (am a TA while doing my grad degree in engineering) and volunteered with elementary and middle school children in the past, but unless you can get close to my engineering salary (at least 100k/year) I'm not going to switch to teaching as a career.


My mother was an elementary school teacher during the depression, with only a "normal school" education, and after the war, and taking time out to raise us kids, she was unable to return to teaching, and ended up as secretary to the director of special education in a suburban school district. She wrote all his letters for him, because he seemed to be unable to compose a coherent paragraph, even though he had an Ed.D.


> I would like to see fluffy degree programs ended, so that legitimate work in the humanities can continue without anyone wasting time...

> ... the heaviest users of the service were education majors..

Aren't you contributing to the fluffy education problem by creating fluffy educators?


First, thanks for bringing this perspective, even if unpopular.

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.


It's a pretty broken system overall but that's no excuse for your behavior. Just because a building is dilapidated is no excuse to spray it with graffiti or throw rocks at the windows. Similarly, some folks have the mentality that when developing if the build is already broken it's fine to checkin anything. The reality is that you're just making things worse but you have a convenient cover to hide behind, just like looting during a natural disaster.


Can give you some example topics for the essays? Not having visited college in the US, I find it hard to imagine what these assignments look like.

Here, you are usually expected to write a paper based on multiple recent papers on a current topic.


I'm sure you're aware of this, but the high demand from foreign language students is likely because US colleges often have a foreign language requirement. At my college it was four semesters, which is pretty common.

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'm sure you're aware of this, but the high demand from foreign language students is likely because US colleges often have a foreign language requirement.

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.


Oh, I suppose that could be read either way but given the context you're probably right. Thanks!


>>I would expect ghostwriters to want to keep a low profile

Nope, but you would expect them not to reveal their clients.


She wrote an essay for a Chinese student about her mother washing clothes in a laundromat, leaving them to run errands and returning to find the clothes stolen. While leaving one's belongings unattended in a public place in China would indeed likely result in them being taken (and no one in China would do such a thing expecting anything different), China doesn't have laundromats. Never has. Not that anyone involved seems to care.

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.


I went to a laundromat in Shanghai once. Maybe they only exist around the trendy western-style apartment neighbourhoods, but they do exist.


They exist inside and around every university and college throughout the Mainland, though not on the street front. You go up the stairs to the 3rd floor, give your bag of washing and 10 rmb to the attendant who tears a playing card in half, gives you one half and staples the other onto your bag. Go back 2 days later for your washed, dried, and folded clothing.


Right, but you wouldn't have your clothes stolen from that kind. The point is it's automatic and (at least mostly) unattended.


I was left wondering if, in an inception kind of way, she made the story about that happening in her personal life up as a hook to get a lot of readers to read the vice article. After all she talks in the story about how incorporating a thread of pain or humanity helps the students who she ghostwrites for to get the reader of their applications to like them. Couldn't she be using the same tactic with a made-up story about the laundromat incident in Korea to get us to like her article?

PS - I liked the article :)


This is a bit disheartening to me, but not surprising. I know of several people who have used this type of service, and some who have provided it.

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.


I'll never understand the mindset where not going to an Ivy is a "setback." That's not meant to be an insult at all, if it sounded like one.

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.


Part of it was my fault - I only applied to a select 5 schools initially, since an Ivy was supposed to be a fallback due to connections & strength of academics. In hindsight, it was pretty foolish of me.

I ended up attending a state school, applying last minute in April.


Can you elaborate on specifically what made your essay bad?


My writing was just not that great at times before attending college - ironically, when I took a philosophy summer class the summer before the semester started, everything just clicked and I suddenly started to be able to write pretty well.


So it wasn't the content per se?


Part of it was that I often struggled on open-ended essays like college essays back then - I always felt that the questions/topics were contrived and made it harder for me to find something to write about.


I have several friends here in Brazil that were accepted in top USA MBAs. All of them are very smart, but all of them hired a consultant to help with admission process.

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.


One things all these stories really emphasize is how much of a hurdle it is for a first-generation college student to get into a top school. It isn't just other bright high schoolers you're in competition with, it is a whole system which is coaching, supporting and, sometimes apparently, doing very professionalized admissions management on their behalf.

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? :-)


IMO with a consultant, you aren't passing someone else's work off as your own, which is the truly dishonest part.

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.


I agree that the ethical line is there. Hut I am saying when a professional consultant tells you what to write and checks your every sentence, it is as fake as a ghost writer (with an interview)


I think the critical difference is that when you pay someone to do the work for you, you do not actually learn anything. When you hire a consultant, you do learn something.

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.


> 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.

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.


I think you are heavily underestimating the interference the consultant has on the essay. Believe me, it is not even close of an editor (of friends and family proof reading). It is not a "read over".

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.

I hope you can see the difference.


Haven't you described a copy editor? That's their job. Its common everywhere (where people can afford one)


Well, I did my best to desribe how this is different from a copy editor. But it looks like it wasn't enough.


My wife has worked as an editor for 30 years. That description fits her job perfectly.


"rewrite yourself until every single sentence is exactly like the ... wants, good."

Change the ... to "HS teacher" or "professor" or "TA" and this is a good summary of a writing class.


I used to work for a company writing application essays for Chinese students. I didn't write them myself but I have no moral objection. The requirements are bizarre - effectively "tell us what you know will make us like you but hide the fact that you know we want to hear it".

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.


Fairness is not concomitant to a spare 2K$.


It opens doors for some people who wouldn't have been able to otherwise. But more importantly, I hope this type of cheating leads universities to change their selection processes so applicants don't have to play this second-guessing game.

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.


> But more importantly, I hope this type of cheating leads universities to change their selection processes so applicants don't have to play this second-guessing game.

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.

"give weigh"?


Everyone makes typos. Give it a rest.


At $400 a piece, often including lengthy interviews and an overwhelming demand, the author should raise their rates. Probably by an order of magnitude.


Agree. $400 seems awfully low. What does a PR guy get for a piece?


PR isn't done on a piece basis unless it's really low rent, in which case it's not worth however little you spend. Normally there's a retainer of some sort into the considerable thousands of dollars. A typical press release including working with the client on messaging and getting supporting quotes, etc. probably costs into the thousands.


Not to mention that her target clientele have deep pockets.


Paul Graham had some interesting things to say about the value of elite college degrees back in 2007: http://paulgraham.com/colleges.html

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?



I would argue that modern, prestigious tech companies use GitHub portfolios like admissions counselors use activity leadership and transcripts.

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.


> GitHub portfolios

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 bit about selling her soul seemed a bit contrived. They don't have to be the applicants' stories, but they don't have to be the ghostwriter's story either -- once it's no longer a true story for the applicant, whether it's your story or total fiction seems irrelevant.

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.


When I studied at a university in Fuzhou, I wrote a fair few things for friends (both students and teachers) - admissions applications, letters of reference, essays, correspondence etc. Some was just helping with language errors, some was translation and some was just downright faking (ie. "my professor is my brothers cousins uncles best friend, he said you can write whatever you want"). I figured I wrote my fair share of bullshit on my university application and subsequent job forms, so this wasn't much different...

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.


It's interesting that one of the only Ivy programs which is essentially immune to this gaming of the system is Harvard Business School, which allows only one semi-optional free-form essay ("What else would you like us to know?":(http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/application-process/Pages/...) and requires a follow-up letter to every in-person interview.

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.)


> It's interesting that one of the only Ivy programs which is essentially immune to this gaming of the system is Harvard Business School

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?


Evidence of what?

You can see the admissions essay requirements on the linked page.


So she now makes decent money but feels like she is selling her soul. That seems so common. And I find myself increasingly wondering if the world is really so screwed up that it is not possible to make it, financially, without feeling like a sell-out or if there is some other explanation for that phenomenon.

Surely, there are people in the world who are not destitute and who don't feel like they are selling their soul?


Probably. I think Mark Rosewater the designer of Magic the Gathering feels that way. For you not to feel cheap or cheated you need to love your job, be payed for it and be good at it. Finding all three is next to impossible


I know plenty of people who feel like they have a good balance between money and satisfaction with what they're doing.

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.


> Surely, there are people in the world who are not destitute and who don't feel like they are selling their soul?

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.


YCombinator is all tied up with VCs and incubators and such, right? In other contexts such as applying for various types of placements, are people's comment histories reviewed (including whatever amount of doxing is possible via server logs etc) to weed out "bad eggs"?

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.


What I want to know is what the difference between ghostwriting for school purposes, and ghostwriting for literary purposes, is.

Hillary Clinton and Ronald Reagan (and many others) had their autobiographies ghostwritten [1] 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.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostwriter


> What I want to know is what the difference between ghostwriting for school purposes, and ghostwriting for literary purposes, is.

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.


> Ghostwriting in academia is a violation of academic ethics, a basis for expulsion or withdrawal of a granted degree

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 wonder if there are "HN Posting Consultants" that help you get into YC?

I also wonder how much I'm kidding when I say that.


Better yet, is there a sharing economy startup for essay writing yet?


I can see the startup's pitch already: "Sell your soul, contribute to the systematic erosion of civilized values, undermine everyone's idea of fair play -- all this without having to become a lawyer!"


Not yet, but there are peer to peer boat rentals! Check out GetMyBoat >>> https://getmyboat.com/


Tons of rationalization for this behavior in the post and in the comments here.

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.


This reminds me of what PG writes in a start up idea essay.

"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 story really irks me but honestly its not like cheating in developing countries like India and China is anything new.


It's not cheating it's unipersonal growth hacking.


Yeah, you're right ;)


Sorry, everyone cheats.


Yeah chinks like to cheat.


Exams are stupid. Qualifications are stupid. Jobs are stupid. Capitalism is stupid. We've turned pure learning into an exercise in grinding, to level up a meaningless stat.

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.


Ironically, by getting used to dole out work to others (subordinates) by paying them and expecting success is their basic managerial ethos, and one that even predominates modern Western management. This does properly prepare them in a way for management and 'modern' capitalist idealism. They have no feelings of condition to reciprocate any sacrifices of their 'employees' (in this case ghost writers) other than payment. Expecting any kind of reciprocation other than materialism and monetary in a purely capital transaction is a mistake that is common to those not accustomed to the exploitative condition of capital, economics, and enterprise.

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.


Anyone who has been to a high end business school will not be surprised by this in the slightest. Chinese (and others - lets not pick on the Chinese alone here) students who can't speak English, and yet were scoring 700+ on the GMAT are a dime a dozen. Everyone knows it, including the admissions departments - but they're under orders to increase the "international" percentage of the student body lest they get painted as "too waspy". It's a racket.


I think dynamics like these are pretty interesting, reminds me of a convo with phd student I work with about taking classes he could care less about and I said pretty soon people will probably be using google glass or contacts that they can leverage during exams and a sign of it working will be when universities start trying to crack down on such behavior despite such things making students more efficient in a system that has seemed to focus on everything but what it sells itself as (at least idealized at its "best")… all in all, just another symptom of another system moving to obsolescence.

"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…


I for one agree with the top Facebook comment on the article that this piece would be an amazing college admission essay, at least if it wasn't about compromising ethics in college admissions...

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).


It's almost certainly not just US schools too. I remember in grad school that some of the students (at least one Chinese sticks out in my mind) were absolutely not fluent English speakers. It was definitely a requirement for the program, but they couldn't manage a coherent sentence, let alone paragraph.

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.


It's way more than just US schools, and it's way more than just admissions. Entire companies have been set up which are dedicated to helping Chinese students cheat their way through university:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8662224/Chinese-ch...


I wonder if US would attract more quality students for the undergrad programs from around the world if it adopted a blind standardized test approach like JEE in India. SAT/ACT aren't comparable to those tests. Anytime you involve something that is open to subjective interpretation like essays that don't need to be created "live", you will open up opportunities for workarounds like this one (i.e. hiring ghost writers). Or maybe tests + interviews is the best combination since interviews bring out character and at the end of the day that's what matters - character.


It's definitely an interesting read, but I don't know how true it rings to me.

> 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?


As a lawyer surrounded by highly-compensated lawyers living month to month (with great handbags) this doesn't strike me as suspect. What's that plea of the overtaxed upper-middle class? "You don't understand how little money I have, after I spend it all."


> Of course, I didn’t have time for moral quandaries. As my name became more popular, I found myself with more clients than I had time to help. I couldn’t interview all of them, so I needed to find a way to produce essays faster. My solution: writing about my own intimate experiences.

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).


I guess at some point these essays would simply be filtered out through author identification systems. If not already. Even if the accuracy of author identification is relatively low (80-85%?), just the thought that there is such a system in place should discourage students from cheating.

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.


She only charges $400?! That's crazy. What Ivy leagure candidate COULDN'T afford that? At those prices I'm surprised anyone writes their own letters.


> She only charges $400?! That's crazy.

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.


You seem to be saying the ghostwriter is a Chinese person living in China, but she wrote, "I’m a second-generation Korean American." Some quick Googling suggests the U.S. median income is around $50,000.


And if she only charges $400 for 350/3 essays per year, she makes about $47k. I can't fathom why she doesn't raise her rates if she feels like she's selling her soul when she writes about her own experiences.


She should have charged way more! She showed how absurd the higher education industry is - that's worth way more than 1k / week


One of my Filipino friends was doing this sort of work. She did it well and got paid well but she finally quit over ethical concerns. I would find it incredibly entertaining if customer records ever leaked ;) although there'd be no way to authenticate them.


Given the openness of ghost writing and the ease of video communication there seems to be benefit in institutions moving this process to a one-to-one interview, or at least to a post essay interview.


To be blunt, this article makes me sick. An admission essay is one of many ingredients to the meal that makes a great candidate.

If all the other metrics are aligned, why does one need to hire a professional writer?


I appreciate the typo in the second paragraph. Gave me a good chuckle:

    factory tycoon’s daughters
as opposed to the plural possessive "tycoons' daughters"


I actually think it's fine as it is. Each variation has slightly different meaning:

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.


What happens to these students when they enter their required writing composition/rhetoric classes? Do they just pay someone to do all of that work too?


Likely so.


After a minimum objective criteria (grades etc), just make admissions random, all this gaming stuff is silly


Sidebar - for those who wrote admissions essays - do you remember what you wrote?


I do, because I have managed to not do one single thing that I wrote. Some I knew were half-truths when I wrote them, some I had to give up because my interests changed between applying and starting MS (which is an almost one-year gap, in the final year of your undergrad), and I changed specializations.


Yup. It was a couple years ago, but I actually put a good deal of thought into it (probably had 20 drafts).

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).


Not really. Or, maybe not at all. But I am 49 and also had a medical crisis that involved taking a whole bunch of meds. So my memory is not what it used to be.


Yup. Wrote about a state-wide competition I participated in and how I approached it. Helps that I did well in it.


"Follow the money."

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.


Can anyone recommend admission consultants or give any advice about using them? I want to help a highschooler out.


Asking for consultancy advice in the comments section of an article focused on cheating that very system.

Is this what we've come to?


I am not sure why this is directed towards China. There are certainly more Americans paying Americans to write their essays every semester.

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?" Lord! 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.


Because it's written by a woman who writes essays for Chinese students.


She writes for anyone who is willing to pay her $400 per essay. It is not just for the children of wealthy Chinese, and many Chinese people choose to write their own.

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.


>She writes for anyone who is willing to pay her $400 per essay. It is not just for the children of wealthy Chinese...

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.


Every time China is mentioned on HN there is someone complaining about it in the comments, whats with that?


Probably just because there are a lot of Chinese people. Every time a story singles out particular 'identity', people feel the need to defend that identity.

I remember when this article[1] 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.

[1]: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24836917




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