New Website Buys Students’ Admissions Essays

November 12, 2010 12:00 am0 comments
Shashwat Samudra

How much is a college application essay worth? According to a new website, The Essay Exchange, as little as $7.50.

Barely three months old, the site is intended to revolutionize the college admission process, according to its founders, two Harvard Business School alumni.

The Essay Exchange asks current students and recent alumni of all eight Ivy League schools, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to upload their application essays. Employing a variable pricing structure, the company then allows college applicants to buy the essays. 

Essay packages range in price and size. An essay purchased in bulk costs $7.50, an individual essay runs $15, while the site charges $20 for the chance to buy all essays from a particular author. Students are paid two dollars every time their work is downloaded.

Prospective applicants can sort the essays by a variety of metrics, some of which include the author’s race, income level and high school GPA.

The Essay Exchange states as its mission to provide “an affordable way to provide admissions essay insight,” according to Rory O’Connor, CEO of the company and an Amherst College graduate.

“We have all seen firsthand the huge inequality in college admissions at elite schools,” O’Connor said. “The company has generated interest mainly through its deal for current college students … It’s a fantastic deal for the uploaders. They can upload their essay in under five minutes and then get paid continually throughout college and beyond.”

Plagiarism is one of the company’s top concerns; as a result, it not only requires users to sign an anti-plagiarism pledge, but also has partnered with admission offices nationwide, making its database of essays available to them.

“As a society, we have not come up with an adequate response to the threat of plagiarism in the information age,” O’Connor said. “At The Essay Exchange, we want to be on the forefront of that battle and work with colleges and other organizations to prevent cheaters from gaining admission to college”

Two hundred and seventy essays have been uploaded to the site so far, including 18 from Cornell, according to O’Connor. Currently, a network of four campus representatives works to market the site to college students and create interest.

Admissions officials at Cornell say they do not trust the site — although according to Pat Wasyliw, assistant dean of admissions and advising in the College of Arts and Sciences, “the applicant is the author of [his or her] essay and, while we have the right to retain a copy, Cornell does not view the essay as its property when the applicant submits it.” 

Still, Wasyliw said, the site’s mission is ill-founded.

“Many high school students face the anxiety of thinking, ‘what should I write about?’” said Wasyliw said in an e-mail. “Looking at a collection of college essays could perhaps help some students generate their own ideas, and provide inspiration for deciding what unique circumstances in their own lives would make a good essay topic. This site, however, is not the way to accomplish that, as you can’t read any essays until you buy them for $15 each.”

Wasyliw continued, “In a nutshell, if you think this is a good idea in any way, you do not belong at Cornell or any comparable institution of higher learning.” 

O’Connor emphasized that the essays his site provides are intended to be used only as a reference.

“I agree that the college essay is a culmination of high school experiences and even of applicants’ lives up to that point, and everyone’s writing style is an endless process of development,” O’Connor said. “We want all applicants to be able to visit the site and learn what admissions departments at top schools are accepting. Specifically, applicants should note the different approaches, structures and strategies in the successful essays on our site. Every student has experiences upon which an excellent essay can be based, but not every student understands what an excellent essay is.”

He emphasized that the site was meant to “level the playing field.”

“Where schools have failed to adequately show students what a top tier admissions essay should look like, we step in to fill the gap,” O’Connor said. 

Colin Foley ’14 said he thought the site sounded like a valuable tool for college applicants.

“I went to a public high school that was below average, so the college counseling process wasn’t very helpful,“ Foley said. “When the time came to apply to colleges, I’d seen a couple books of essays, but really, very few of them ended up helping me. If I’d had access to [The Essay Exchange] back then, it would probably have been easier to put together a good essay.”