Written by Christie Zervos, Vice President of Operations
September 27, 2016
Essay mills, always a thorn in the side of collegiate admissions officers, have gained wide use and acceptance by college applicants, especially foreign students entering US universities. In the past decade, the number of foreign students has nearly doubled. As the popular physicist Michio Kaku recently pointed out, "In the United States, 50% of all Ph.D. candidates are foreign born." Kaku assures us this is good. The U.S. is a kind of "magnet sucking up all the brains in the world," he says.
For many international students seeking admission to U.S. schools, the college application essay is a nightmare. Not only do many students struggle with the fundamentals of English grammar and vocabulary, but since writing styles and expectations vary across the world, students often struggle with how to even begin. Since Chinese students aren't familiar with the application format in America, many aren't confident in writing their own essays. Similar stories are being told across East Asia (Korea, Japan), where the language gap is particularly wide.
As a result, admissions officers are seeing a huge increase in falsified college application essays. Sometimes applicants seek out ghostwriters online through websites like Craigslist. Others take the slightly more credible route by hiring American personal tutors or seeking assistance from ethically-challenged English-language academies.
Blatant cheating with college application essays is astounding. Earlier this year, CNN noted that many admissions officers have seen tell-tale evidence of cheating with essays containing phrases such as "insert girl's name here.” This has been especially problematic with Chinese students. "There are a lot of Chinese students trying to get into the best quality schools they can," the director of international initiatives for the National Association of College Admission Counseling said. "Obviously there's competition and incentive to cut corners."
Despite the widespread use of essay writers for hire, we cannot and should not conclude that all foreign students are cheating their way into college. The CNN article hastens to note that the vast majority of Chinese students, as well as other foreign students, are not outsourcing their college application essays and are succeeding.
If you were a college admissions officer, how would you deal with this problem? What measures would you recommend to ensure that your admissions decisions are fair and based upon trustworthy applications? Obviously, no university wants to admit known cheaters. These people can taint the academic integrity environment at the school. If they successfully complete their degrees and do not reform, they may contribute to the wave of cheating in scientific and academic research. They may join those who have been convicted of cheating in business or in the professions. These people can undermine all that a university professes to be.
This trend threatens the integrity of our educational institutions. As a society, we are at risk that our future leaders will not be trustworthy and will subscribe to the motto: “Whatever it takes!” In other words, the threat posed by students’ use of essay mills is real. The security of our educational system is in jeopardy. We need to take this threat seriously and be willing to help our universities deal with an influx of cheaters into our educational system.