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Can Colleges Tell When Students Don't Write Their Own Essays?

13

Replies to: Can Colleges Tell When Students Don't Write Their Own Essays?

  • Time2Time2 Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    Paying a 3rd party to 'edit' your essay sounds a little over the top to me. I wonder if they will also use that service when term papers are required in college??? LOL. Anyway.....having someone other than your immediate family review the essay is probably a good idea, since they will more easily catch things that don't fit or aren't clear. Can a college tell the difference in the final product and does it make a difference on getting accepted, in my opinion probably not.
  • Little MotherLittle Mother Registered User Posts: 1,890 Senior Member
    This posting brought back a disappointing memory of S's fourth-grade teacher who accused him of plagiarism when he submitted a homework-assigned composition. For some reason, she didn't believe that he could have written a pretty imaginative composition and used good grammar as well.

    Fast forward - now I wonder what admissions folks thought when he read his college essays eight years ago. Did they question their authenticity as well? Mmm.
  • shawbridgeshawbridge Registered User Posts: 5,484 Senior Member
    Most people thank that they can detect lying, but it turns out that people are worse than random at detecting who is going to lie. A few groups, like Secret Service agents are particularly good at it.

    I suspect that admissions officers think that they know when kids have written the essays or gotten help but that in fact they are not much better than random. They'd have a clue if a C student in English turns in an A++ essay, but for a lot of cases, they won't know whether a kid is imaginative, a strong writer, etc.
  • ctyankeectyankee Registered User Posts: 1,410 Senior Member
    As to the question at hand, I'm sure there are some clear giveaways that show an adult writer or at least an adult editor .... for example, if some kid were to say "in retrospect" I would have doubts about any 17 year old thinking about much in "retrospect" or using that choice of word.

    That said, parents can help in the editing process. My son was using highfalutin words that made me cringe. I wish I could remember specific examples. There was also not enough 'show versus tell' or not enough 'him' coming through.

    Another short essay was discuss something that is important to you and he decided to discuss the mission trips he did. Both my wife and I were like, 'who wrote this because this is not you. Do you get with your friends and discuss the impact on mission trips to your life, because you sure don't talk about it with us. We told him to lose that one and share what's important to him and NOT to guess what is important to an admissions reader.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,857 Senior Member
    I would have doubts about any 17 year old thinking about much in "retrospect" or using that choice of word.

    I have a 12-year-old, and my husband and I are constantly floored by what comes out of his mouth. For instance, in the course of a 35-minute-walk last night, we heard from him, "She cites only the most generic examples" and "I beg to differ."

    In most respects, my son is your basic 'tweener ... so I beg to differ, too. ;)
  • futurephysicianfuturephysician Registered User Posts: 163 Junior Member
    haha my parents are both completely illiterate so that wasn't a problem for me.
    However, I had a few English teachers look it over, one of whom didn't know me very well, and my best friends.

    Yes, there are some words and sentences such as "delightful" which are so obviously edited by teachers to flow better and sound sophisticated, but the essay as a whole is still very me.
  • sixstringsrockersixstringsrocker Registered User Posts: 631 Member
    Its not fair that students get someone to actually write their essay. And then actually paying them to write it is completely wrong. It took me more than a month to finalise my essay. I had two people to read it for me and make minor changes but none of them wrote even a complete sentence for me, a few words here and there but nothing more. I'm very happy with my essay and with the fact that I can say it truely is my work.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,857 Senior Member
    I'm very happy with my essay and with the fact that I can say it truely is my work.

    My husband often asks my son, "Will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning?" In other words, personal integrity should matter most of all, even if you don't get extra credit (or any credit) for it. Granted, there are dozens of times throughout life when it's frustrating to see others get ahead as the result of unscrupulous behavior. But I'm still a big believer in that mirror test ... and I also hold out hope that the good-karma theory works, too ... at least most of the time. :)
  • involvedobserverinvolvedobserver Registered User Posts: 34 Junior Member
    how do you feel that "thesaurusy" words are viewed in an essay? although clearly subjective, i am referring to words that my daughter knows, but wouldn't use in day to day conversation, not words that she never heard of! i would think that "top tier" schools in 2011 would hope/presume that the dictionary/thesaurus are used

    the schools must know that many of their smart applicants say LIKE as every 3rd word in their dailyspeak!
  • digmediadigmedia Registered User Posts: 3,330 Senior Member
    I am a huge believer in an essay carrying a writer's "voice." So *MY* preference is a more conversational tone, although that like does not like mean the word like every like third word. One way to accomplish this is to have the student read it out loud. If some words seem to cause a stumble or seem out of place, then ditch it for a simpler one.

    There is some controversy about using contractions in an essay. Personally, I'm all for it. Or should I have said, "I am all for it"....? I think it's important for application essays to have a certain flow that helps create that "voice" I was talking about. Thesaurusy-words sometimes break this flow.

    Maybe Sally can respond to your question. She's like read like a million essays.

    ---Robert Cronk, author of Concise Advice: Jump-Starting Your College Admissions Essays, and the upcoming Cracking the Common App Essay
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,857 Senior Member
    how do you feel that "thesaurusy" words are viewed in an essay?

    Here's what I wrote in Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions many moons ago:
    Vocabulary should be varied and interesting. Teenagers tend to use the same boring words (like “varied” and “interesting”) over and over and over. Check for repetition. Suggest more colorful alternatives. On the other hand, don’t encourage your child to use words he’s not comfortable or familiar with. He should use a thesaurus for suggestions, but his writing shouldn’t sound as if he swallowed one.

    I still stand by that advice today. And, like digmedia, I am a fan of the "conversational" tone, yet I also understand that some students prefer a more formal voice. "Formal" and "natural" aren't necessarily in opposition. A parent, teacher, or other objective reader who knows the applicant can often discern between "formal" and "forced" and advise accordingly.

    But you give me too much credit, Bob. I don't think I've read a million essays just yet ... more like half a million. ;)
  • GlobalNomadGlobalNomad Registered User Posts: 208 Junior Member
    Only 42 posts with nearly 12,000 views?!? I think this topic hit a nerve!
  • shawbridgeshawbridge Registered User Posts: 5,484 Senior Member
    I suspect that there are fads in terms of what appeals to adcoms in terms of style. My sense from reading things from the professionals (like Sally and Bob) is one kind of essay that works at many schools is a "slice of life" essay that give a senses of the person underneath and that moves from a thoughtful observation about some small incident in that kid's life to something broader or more general, without being too heavy-handed ("the moral of this story is"). The latter step shows that the kid is indeed interesting, quirky, wry, the kind of person we'd like to have lunch with, ... . This kind of essay is not laden with thesaurusy words for most kids.

    Independent of the fashion trends in college essays, I would still guess that admissions officers are much more confident about their ability to discern whether a kid wrote the piece than they should be. As I mentioned above, people are quite confident that they can discern who is lying and who is not when they are watching and listening and in fact their judgment is significantly worse than a coin flip. I suspect they have less information than in an essay of a person they don't know than they do in watching and listening to someone talk.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,857 Senior Member
    I would still guess that admissions officers are much more confident about their ability to discern whether a kid wrote the piece than they should be.

    I totally agree. And a related issue for me is this: Even when a student writes the initial essay, often it goes through many hands before it reaches admission offices. For instance, it is becoming increasingly more common for college essay-writing to become part of the senior English curriculum. So the essay has been evaluated and edited by a teacher before it is submitted. Increasingly, too, students hire private consultants to weigh in, and this "weighing in" can mean anything from providing helpful suggestions to white-washing the original prose beyond recognition.

    Granted, sometimes the "too-many-cooks" theory kicks in and the finished product is actually worse than the original. But, often, an essay that admission folks applaud could not have been written by the candidate without significant outside assistance.

    If I ruled the world (or at least this crazy corner of it), I would impose a one-time-only application for all college-bound seniors that would be accepted by every college. It would include a couple essays ... maybe one long and one or even two short ones ... and would be completed in a proctored situation on a single Saturday morning in the fall of senior year. This system would reduce student (and parent) stress immeasurably and would also insure a greater amount of fairness among "competitor" candidates.
  • wtuanwtuan Registered User Posts: 35 Junior Member
    It is common for the rich kids to hire someone to write college essays for them. I took a part time job to be the college consultant for an international student (whose parents are very wealthy). I asked the kid to start the draft of her college essay on her own. Then the parent fired me and asked another agent to do the job for her daughter. Because it is expected that their son/daughter shall not need to do anything in terms of college application process. Well, I guess it is the common practice among the rich people. Too bad.
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