How did your clients find you?
I got started originally because a friend, finding himself adrift after his company was acquired, bored with the prospect of returning to an office—and flush with cash—decided finally to get the degree he’d postponed. Some of his acquaintances heard about this, and when another decided to return to school, she called me, and so on and so on.
In smaller matters, such as rewriting a statement of purpose for a law-school application for an honors graduate from a fine Ivy League school, I performed the sleight of hand at the request of a concerned mother. And there was an article on a famous artist for a book being privately published for a show abroad; the author admitted it had been centuries since he wrote anything approaching such an essay. I took the task on as a act of friendship.
How much did you charge?
Oh, I made a fair sum of money—I changed my students what I would charge a business client for freelance work. But these students were all very well off.
How much time did it take?
A lot. I spent the entire semester with these people. My work didn’t simply involve writing their papers—I also prepped them for their exams and classwork. But it was a joy—I love to read and write and think a bit.
Tell us about handling the feedback from professors. How did it get relayed to you? Did you give your students questions to ask their teachers?
My students had their assignments, which were passed on to me. We always discussed what was required, because it was important that the work reflected their various worldviews—which were for the most part rather sophisticated, as my students were all adults, and some of them quite accomplished.
Since you weren’t there when a topic was assigned, how did you explore the subject further, if you needed to?
The topics were assigned, more often than not, as formal questions. I was given the books and papers assigned to read—which was the real joy for me, as I would never have had the chance to read most of the works unless I’d won the lottery or turned my back on popular culture. Where more research was required, I visited the library or requested books, which would be sent to me the following day.
Did you write essays as yourself, or take on the persona of whomever you were writing them for?
A little of both.
Did you ever write a bad essay—or get a bad grade, even if you didn’t think you’d done a bad job? Were you ever late with an essay?
I don’t think anything I wrote received a grade lower than an A. In a couple of instances, my students reported that their professors said it was the best work they had seen—though not necessarily the most brilliant or scholarly, because I made sure each work would be informed by the “worldliness” of my students.
How did your “students” treat you? Were they at all high-handed?
Interesting question. The closer we were, the more natural the relationship. There were two instances when the people I “worked” for thought of me as little more than a skilled servant. I was considered part of the extended household, like the florist, the lawyers, or the accountants; a professional for hire. These people could be rude, but since they were paying my fee, I felt I could hardly complain. Whatever resentment I felt was akin to what I’d felt for rude or stupid business clients.
And how did you feel about them?
Grateful for the work. All of them I knew—with varying degrees of intimacy—so the fact that they were asking for help didn’t diminish my opinion of them. My ego isn’t so fragile as to fracture at a cruel word or act. Plus, my skills, my discretion—and the fact I was welcome in their social circles—protected me from any real abuse.
Did your clients participate at all in their education or essay writing?
Well, they attended class, took their exams. To one degree or another, they read some or all of the materials in their syllabus. We’d debate the subjects together, and the papers often reflected their opinions and interpretations—for those, I merely made them more articulate or gave them some style.
Did you meet and go over the essays or just email them without discussion?
We met, discussed—that was part of the fun for me. The argument, debate, etc. They often had to add or delete something to make the work theirs—which was fine with me because as far as I was concerned, it was theirs. However, if I thought their additions or elisions were unwise, inconsistent or beside the point, I argued against them.
And how do you feel now about it all? Do you consider those degrees yours? Do you tell people you have these degrees?
No and no. If I wrote the applications to prestigious departments at three fine schools and all three were accepted, it wasn’t my life story or statement of purpose that was accepted—it was my clients’. It was work. I could no more claim the degrees than I could claim the profits my work generated for my business clients.
Do you have an opinion about the ethics of it?
If it were a matter of college-age students, I would happily tutor them and help them exercise their critical faculties, but I wouldn’t write papers for them—the one exception was the case I mentioned about the frantic mother who was desperate to see her child accepted into a leading law school. (She was also a former client, who, over the years, had paid me a fair amount of money; I thought of the work as a favor, nothing more.)
Were you or any of your clients ever found out?
Never. And I never felt that what I did was unscrupulous or my work mercenary—no more so than writing a speech for a business client who was being awarded an honorary Ph.D, or any of the other work I performed in my career. My students were all adults and had some significant accomplishments of their own.—ANONYMOUS
The author is a former advertising copywriter who from time to time wrote papers and took tests for university degree candidates.