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Getty Images The college counselor couldn't help but be impressed with the draft application essay. It had a solid theme and related to the student's academic interests. The writing was flawless. But the counselor, who described the situation on condition of anonymity, said that she just didn't think her student could possibly have written it.
It was too perfect for a student whose writing wasn't.
It was more focused than the student's writing. So she asked the question: Did you get help on this? The student answered yes -- and the help from a paid essay coach had been substantial.
For the counselor, his answer raised ethical and practical issues. On ethics, she asked herself and colleagues in a series of emails whether it was proper for her to let the student submit the essay as his own work. As for the practical, she found herself wondering whether the essay was "too good" for someone with the student's grades, and whether it would be obvious that the essay didn't reflect the student's skills.
The counselor said in an interview that the incident focused her attention on a growing part of the admissions process for students of means: Counselors those who work for high schools and those hired by families have long provided various forms of help on application essays.
So have parents, English teachers, family friends and others. But increasingly a new industry completely unregulated has grown. Students -- many of whom are also paying for private counselors, sometimes at hefty rates -- are also paying thousands in fees for help on their essays.
Sometimes, as in the example at the beginning of this article, they don't tell the others who are advising them about the practice. In interviews, those who provide these services insist that they don't actually write essays.
But most also say that they know of competitors who do so. Many said that parents -- not students -- are the ones pushing for a coach to write an essay for a student.
And the essay coaches say that they regularly save students from such parents, who are unaware that their essays would immediately be flagged as written by people much older than a typical college applicant.
McSweeney's, the humor website, published a satirical guide to " how to write your teen's college essay " Friday. His website stresses that the work must be from students.
His tagline is "Your story. Five applicants did so. Last year he had 93, including applicants to business, medical and law schools. Those essays include questions asked by individual colleges and prompts related to why someone wants to go to a particular college, and so most students would have one or two of them for each college, on top of the main Common Application essay.
The pricing is strictly by the essay, not an hourly rate -- and so his fee covers however many drafts a student wants him to review after the brainstorming session on what the essay should cover.
Two or three drafts are typical. Schwartz stressed in an interview that he has "never" written an essay for a student, and said that he is "aware of the reputation of people who do what I do. I get into their heads and help find what is unique about them, then show them the insights into their life experiences.
It's what you feel right doing," said Christopher Hunt, a former journalist who runs College Essay Mentor. After all, those using these services already have wealthy parents and are likely to attend high schools public or private with far more resources than the average institution attended by a low-income student.
One essay coach who asked not to be identified said that the equity issue is obvious. He said he takes a few pro bono clients, but that most low-income students could never find someone to do what he does.
He said that essay coaching is becoming the norm for wealthy families, just as test prep has over the last few decades and private counselors have in the last decade or so.
Some of the demand for his services, he said, comes from families that have money, but who may feel that they don't have the cultural connections to know what a college admissions officer will want. As a result, much of his clientele comes from the children of immigrants from China, India and Korea -- students whose parents have succeeded economically in the United States, but who themselves didn't go to college or who didn't go to college in the United States and worry about missing secrets of U.
While admissions officers don't all agree on how important the essay is, this essay coach said that parents increasingly feel that the essay matters more than it did in the past. Everyone hears about how elite colleges have more applicants than they need with perfect grade point averages and near-perfect SATs, he said.
So the essay is seen as a differentiator. Surveys of college admissions officers by the National Association for College Admission Counseling have found that essays do matter but are ranked behind grades in college preparatory courses, strength of high school curriculum, overall high school GPA and standardized test scores in terms of importance.
This counselor said that he does hear about competitors who go further than he would and actually write essays.The Donald is The Man. In the midst of hopscotching between his sumptuous New York City residence and Iowa cow country aboard his private Boeing jet, amid blow-drying his glorious corn-colored.
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