Grad School Essay Review Websites
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tanford isn't going to let you do your essay again. So why take a chance?"
Christine M. Thompson / CyberTimes
At a year-and-a-half old, myEssay.com is one of a number of small companies using the ease of e-mail and the low cost of maintaining a Web site to critique and edit application essays for a fee. These services are trying to carve out a niche that is distinct from sites, much criticized by professors and college administrators, that sell term papers to college students.
Operators of the companies say they are providing a needed service, one akin to the test-preparation courses many students take before tackling examinations that are required for college and graduate school.
But admissions officials say they fear the services feed on the anxiety that surrounds the college admission process.
Even so, the idea behind the companies is not new. For years, books offering writing advice for college application essays have been available, as have writing coaches hired by affluent parents to work with students on their essays. "It's not a new phenomenon, although the electronic medium is a new twist," said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions for Harvard College.
Part of what is driving the services is the competition to gain entrance to elite colleges like Harvard, where about 18,200 students apply for one of the 1,650 freshmen slots. Fierce competition for acceptance into the top-tier business schools is helping, too. Vedant K. Mimani, president of myEssay.com, estimates that about 50 percent of his customers are would-be MBAs. Other companies report similar numbers.
Finally, the companies may be benefiting from the busy working couple syndrome. While many parents in earlier generations used to edit their children's essays, now, working couples often do not have the time.
A quick search in Yahoo turns up about 10 essay review businesses, although no one knows precisely how many there are. One of them is the New York City-based myEssay.com, a four-person company begun by Mimani, a 1996 graduate of Yale University.
Clients who use the site's evaluation service compose an essay and then e-mail it to the company, which has a corps of readers -- all graduates of elite schools and most with either professional writing or college admission experience. Their job is to scrutinize the essays and give suggestions on improving them, looking for things like organization, imagery, clarity, grammar and spelling. The fee is $99.95.
Another company, CollegeGate, offers a variety of packages to customers, from simple critiquing and correction of grammar to a service in which clients can pose questions to the essay's editors on a private bulletin board. Costs can run as high as $500 for a 3,000-word essay.
Then there is the Cambridge Essay Service, run by Sanford Kreisberg, a freelance writer who taught expository writing at Harvard for years. Kreisberg has been working privately with students on essays for about 15 years, he said, once relying solely on fax, telephone and in-person communication. Now, with his Web site, about 30 percent of his business comes from overseas, as students from as far away as Pakistan and Lithuania grapple with the essay requirements of American colleges and universities.
"The Web has allowed a small player like me to operate internationally," he said, adding: "This is a perfect e-mail business."
Some college admissions officials say review of an applicant's essay by another person before it is submitted is acceptable. In fact, applicants to Dartmouth College are advised by the admissions office to have a best friend or other trusted party look it over. In addition, admission officials are aware that parents and even teachers are often called on to give the essay an edit. And at some affluent high schools, students take courses in essay writing to prepare them for the college application essay.
The problem, admission officials say, comes when acceptable review crosses the line into plagiarism, that is when applicants present an essay written by another person. Do the businesses cross that line? Representatives of the three companies say they do not.
"I say 'look, what do you want to say here? What's your thesis? Could you provide more detail -- and write it again.'" Kreisberg said. "I can't write [the essay] for them. It's their experience."Although both myEssay.com and CollegeGate make "sample essays" available on their Web sites, they say the writings are intended as guides to application essays, not as works to be plagiarized or submitted by site users in their applications. In fact, both warn that students would be foolish to use the essays, because they have been widely disseminated.
Still, admissions officers voice misgivings about the services. For one thing, the admissions officials question the need for the services, in part because admissions offices themselves often give applicants tips on essay writing. They also say admissions officials are careful to put essays in the context of the other portions of the application, in part because they are aware that many have been vetted. For another, they worry that the companies could make what is already an expensive endeavor, higher education, even more so, thereby creating an even bigger advantage for affluent students. "Not all students can afford to pay these fees, and we think the process should be as fair as it can be," said Karl M. Furstenberg, director of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College.
A related concern is the proliferation of for-profit companies that have sprung up to usher students through college and graduate school application processes, everything from standardized test preparation courses to services to assist with finding financial aid. "Any aspect of this college admissions process -- someone has found a way to make money off it," said Joyce E. Smith, executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Perhaps most important, some admissions officers fear the services take advantage of the nervousness students and parents feel in applying for college and graduate school. "What bothers me is a lot of these services are, in essence, capitalizing on anxiety about the application process," Furstenberg said.
Kreisberg refutes that. He says that it is application essay writing that is anxiety-producing and he can assist in making it less painful.
As for feeding inequity, company officials assert that unfairness has long been part of essay writing. The student who has a well-educated parent with time and a grasp of writing, or the student who is enrolled in a better suburban school with essay preparation courses, or the student whose parents pay for a writing coach all benefit from an unlevel playing field, they say.
"For $59.95," said Geoffrey L. Cook, founder of CollegeGate, referring to one of his company's editing packages, "it's all evened out."
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Pamela Mendels at firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes your comments and suggestions.