I’m One Of Those People Who Worked For A Website That Sold Papers To College Students, Ask Me Anything

You may have heard of us when you were in college—maybe a friend of a friend used our services, or one of your professors told us that you that if you used us, they’d find out. We “help” tens of thousands of students “research” a year by selling them “sample papers” based on their class assignment. I personally have helped a future teacher “research” her way through her Masters degree, and a guy “research” his way into finishing his doctoral thesis. My former coworkers and I aren’t masterminds, geniuses, or even smart nerds—we were more similar to competitive data processors, grunt workers under stressful deadlines who averaged probably half of minimum wage. We don’t write for slacker students, either—our clients are seemingly smart people on their way to careers in high-paying fields. Whatever you expect our jobs are like, you’re likely wrong. For example…

1. We don’t spend most of our time writing papers about the Declaration of Independence.

When I started writing for the website, I expected to be writing quick undergraduate essays that required a minimum of originality—four or five pages at most, about say, the Declaration of Independence, or some type of exotic wildlife. I imagined I would write about mitochondria. Basically I thought I would be summarizing sources of Wikipedia pages to write about stuff I remember studying in high school.

Surprisingly, it turned out that I had a lot of incorrect assumptions. I had been out of college long enough to forget that professors aren’t fourth-grade teachers, so they don’t do things like assign students to “write about the Declaration of Independence,” or “write an essay talking about mitochondria.” No, they want original theses, originality, coherent arguments, unique approaches. So, if I got something about the Declaration of Independence (I was lucky to even get anything about U.S. history), the assignment would probably look something like this:

Throughout U.S. history, liberty has been a rallying cry, an individual and collective ambition, a central political ingredient, a religious and a judicial principle, a hope realized and frequently a dream deferred. Examine liberty’s multi-dimensional roots from early English settlement (Jamestown, 1607) to the Patriot Act, with a specific focus on how select passages from the Declaration of Independence have been consistently influential (or otherwise) in our nations distinct experience of liberty.

—which is mostly a course description I plagiarized from Western University’s course catalog. Essays I’d accept were, naturally, filled with unimaginable pivots, kinks, and qualifiers. Of course I am just describing a college essay, and in sum, I actually had to use my brain, which at first, was not something I was prepared to do.

2. Our clients were not who you’d expect.

I dabbled in cheating for kids in high school, and they were type of kids you’d expect would pay someone else to do their work for them—they had money, didn’t care about school. They just wanted to get high, smoke cigarettes behind the football field, and tell you to go fuck yourself. I expected the people who were buying their college essays from us would be similar.

But here is who I ended up writing for instead: a guy working on his doctoral thesis in a far-off tangent of urban planning, 4000- to 6000-level neuropsych students, and the most ironic of them all, a woman completing her masters in education. Yes—a future educator, cheating her way through her education. These were people who were the opposite of the stereotypical cheater, at least in my mind. They seemed like people at the top of their class; the kids in high school who only took AP classes, in the honors programs. I would wonder, Why would a person put all this time and effort of four, six, eight years of school, then start cheating?

3. Writing college papers for a living doesn’t make you any smarter.

Once I got used to writing these papers all the time, I became a sort of automaton that, essentially, hashed information from the minimum number of required sources into language sufficiently distinct from the sources, and transferred that information into an essay template appropriate for the assignment. It was not deep work, and the time constraints our pay imposed on us ensured that it could never be deep work. (Pay was based on two factors, due date and number of pages. For example, if there was an assignment on offer that wasn’t due for two weeks, the pay would be something like eight dollars a page. If the assignment was due in the next forty-eight hours, the pay might be around twelve dollars a page. And the thing about writing college papers that people are paying for is you can’t just make shit up. There is not room for waxing philosophical. Otherwise they’ll rightly ask for a refund and never use you again. So a page could easily take an hour to write, especially if it was part of an in-depth argumentative essay where you had to prove something. We are talking minimum wage in the best possible scenario.)

So here’s where I ended up, attempting to land at around minimum wage: literature reviews for theses. I got lucky and struck minimum wage gold when I found a guy who was just starting on his thesis. I’m pretty sure I was the first writer at the company to take him on, and all he wanted from me were, essentially, summaries of articles that he wanted to include in his thesis’ literature review. I did a good job on the first few, so he began to request me, and I ended up with about four weeks of solid work, just summarizing articles. No arguments, no points to back up, just hashing and transferring information. This was, for me at least, where the minimum wage was—the most exploitable area of writing essays other people paid for—and also, probably the most mindless writing I could do.

4. The business we worked for was 100% legit—and was not technically doing anything illegal.

Technically, the site I worked for didn’t sell “college papers” to students. They sold “samples” of college papers to college students for “research purposes,” and as far as I know, students could not simply log on, search a database of papers, and purchase one. The only way to get one was to post a ‘wanted ad’ on the board and connect with one of the company’s writers from there.

I worked remotely, and never actually talked to the people who had hired me — only emailed with them. After being accepted into the position, I was allowed onto the website’s assignment board—basically, a private wanted ads for essays that required the student to provide the name of the assignment, when it was due, what subject it was in, and how many pages it was. I’d log on every day, browse the board, which usually had about twenty five assignments on offer at any given time. If I saw one I thought I could take, I’d click in and read the details of the assignment, do a little research to make sure I could handle it, and if it still felt like something I could do, accept the assignment.

There was little contact with the actual students—the clients. But we were allowed to chat with them through the company’s messaging system if we had any questions. Exchanging email addresses and other personal information was strictly forbidden and, I think, cause for termination, which was definitely because the company did not want us developing relationships with clients and cutting them out of the financial equation. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get past this, to sneak my email address in some far-off corner of an essay, but was too paranoid, because they monitored all our correspondence, and at the time, there was no way I could afford to lose the job.

On the wanted ads board, everyone went by monikers — no real names were used in public. Certain prolific writers had achieved a kind of fame, where clients came in and requested them, specifically asking other writers to please not accept their assignments because they wanted a certain person to take their essay.

This all may sound sketchy, and it definitely was, but the people behind the website had pretty much no shame; they were at pains to make it totally clear that we were selling “sample materials” meant for research and that plagiarism was strictly illegal. There was even an internal monthly newsletter, contests with prizes for who could write the most pages in a month, and bonuses if you referred a new writer. TC mark

thumbnail image- Sean MacEntee

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