What would happen if you found out your dentist had hired someone to take the test on molars for them? Or if the city engineer never took a bridge building class and was responsible for testing their structural integrity?
Today, an internet search for “buy a college paper” will yield a half a billion results, and pages upon pages of websites offering anything from personal essays and lab reports, to nursing papers and academic dissertations.
Marketed as original content, written by native-English-speaking professionals, and seemingly plagiarism proof, websites with names like essay shark, fab editors, pay for essay, papers owl, and my paper writer promise to deliver everything to desperate students with a money back guarantee.
Alison Thomas, a lecturer at American University in Washington whose research focuses on information literacy, finds this development to be troubling. She said she believes the online college paper industry has the potential to wreak serious damage to the overall public good.
“The public has placed its trust in universities. There’s a certification that’s happening there. They’re saying ‘yes, this person is capable of doing all the things the degree suggests they’re capable of doing,’” she said.
Many supporters and patrons of these services, however, say they provide much needed support to students overwhelmed with school work. They characterize universities as degree mills that neglect to teach students real-world skills. Since most students never write another academic paper after graduation, they argue, why should they bother to write them in school?
Thomas concedes that many students, particularly those not accustomed to writing in English, may struggle with their college writing assignments. But paper-writing skills, she said, are important because they develop the kinds of “habits of mind” academic institutions and universities widely regard as crucial.
“These are life skills, these are professional skills,” she said, adding that “to think critically, to communicate clearly, to process information, to do something with ideas” are competences that “transcend specific fields of study.”
On a recent online forum, one student admitted to using a writing service for two college papers. Despite receiving a B on both assignments, the student advised others against buying papers. It was best to “do your own work, cuz it just gets harder,” they said, meaning skipping lessons might come back in upper-level classes to haunt them.
In the Medium article “How to Cheat Your Way Through School,” writer J. Naran concurred. He claimed to have used the “global online marketplace” to cheat his way through one semester of college.
As a scholarship recipient, Naran said he needed to maintain a 3.75 GPA, but found himself struggling to keep his grades up after a romantic breakup and a friend’s calamity.
Naran said cheating will catch up with the cheater. Aside from the costs of paying others for work, students might find themselves working twice as hard later to catch up. Naran did not respond to requests for comment about his article.
Ghostwriter for hire
Victor, a college drop-out and published poet, said he found himself in desperate financial trouble a few years ago. He needed money to pay his rent and for his groceries. He started a website marketing himself as a ghostwriter for hire.
He was approached by a student who asked him to write a first-year psychology paper for her. After she received an A, word spread, and Victor said he soon started to average 10 papers per week.
In an interview, Victor admitted to feeling guilt and shame about this work, calling it “wrong.” He said the most he ever earned was $700 for half of a student’s academic dissertation. Victor spoke only if his name were not disclosed, fearing damage to his reputation. He also said he worried it would impact a pending book contract.
There are thousands of ghostwriters for hire online, many who claim to have advanced degrees. One academic who also feared being fired if their identity were revealed admitted to writing papers for money. They said they needed the money.
Unlike traditional freelance writing, ghostwriting college papers can be quite lucrative, and knowledgeable writers can pocket hundreds of dollars for minimal work.
The college paper site Edusson claims their “expert” writers earn an average of $1,500 to $2,000 a month. The website writerbay.com offers writers the opportunity to choose from posted “jobs” and make anywhere from $75 for a 4,000-word nursing paper to $439 for a 1,100-word marketing paper.
Victor says he no longer writes college papers for money. After writing so much on so many topics, he now considers himself to be somewhat of a renaissance man. Writing papers, he said, has helped to educate him.
Justine Zapin, an adjunct professor who teaches first-year composition at American University in Washington said in an interview that it is common for non-native English speaking students to feel pressure to hire someone to write their essays for them.
Easily identified as false
But according to Zapin, professors at colleges across the U.S. can easily identify a falsified admissions essay by simply comparing it to the language used in assigned classroom work.
“The difference is really obvious,” she said.
This type of cheating may be the reason many universities are turning to third party interviewing services as part of their admissions process. Today, companies such as Initial View, based in China, videotapes interviews with prospective students in part, to verify and showcase their English speaking skills.
In any case, students who opt to intentionally cheat the system run the risk of being found out.
Like many universities, the academic integrity office at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) explicitly states on their webpage that students who are caught using online college paper writing services “almost always” end up suspended or dismissed from their universities. In 2017-2018, there were a total of 845 academic integrity allegation cases at UCSD.
Students, they argue, should strive to be truthful in their work because “society relies on the UCSD degree to mean something,” namely, “that a graduate has the requisite knowledge and abilities to perform in a professional role.”