5 Things You Learn Helping Rich College Kids Cheat (For Pay)
Probably 80 percent of what you learn in college has nothing to do with the curriculum. The first glance at a $300 textbook gives you a brutal early lesson in market monopolies, and having your first roommates will teach you valuable lessons in conflict resolution, human sexuality, and the importance of good hygiene. So when our source, "Joe," started his own business secretly writing papers for other students, he got a whole side education in human behavior he never expected.
Note: If you get caught doing this shit, you'll get kicked out of school. Do not take any of this as a recommendation. Still ...
If You're Willing To Cheat, You'll Find Plenty Of Customers
Most of us don't dive into our academic career thinking, "I bet I could make a lot of money off these chumps!" (That's what the school is thinking about you.) In Joe's case, the suggestion that he start helping students commit academic fraud for cash started as a joke that stopped being a joke the moment money changed hands.
"My roommate at the time had just purchased a new copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and was really looking forward to a fun-filled weekend of dragon-slaying," he says. "The problem was that he had an economics paper due the following Monday, and hadn't started it because he was too busy over the previous few weeks doing things that weren't his paper. He explained this predicament to me while we were in the drive-thru line at a McDonald's. I jokingly replied by saying, 'Give me fifty bucks, and I'll write it for you.' He replied by telling me that if I agreed to do it, he would stop at an ATM on the way home."
Joe turned down the first offer to pay him in gold and bear pelts.
Joe weighed the price of his integrity against his desire for his own copy of Skyrim, and it didn't take long for him to make his decision. After all, his roommate assured him "[the] professor only assigned it out of a university policy [that] was really only looking to see if you can write in English coherently." Besides, the people of Skyrim were counting on them to take care of its dragon problem. Pretty soon, word of Joe's services spread, and he developed the kind of regular clientele that a legitimate freelancer writer would kill for:
"My roommate/first customer was in a fraternity at the time, and soon enough, word of his violation of the Academic Honor Policy spread to his brothers. During the weeks after my roommate turned in his/my paper, some of his brothers would get into contact with me asking if I could do the same for them. Liking the idea of extra cash in my pocket, I told them all yes."
The less dollars in the hands of frat boys, the less poo dollars in the streets. It was a public service, really.
And here is where you find out that the whole "broke college student" stereotype only applies to some of us ...
You'd Be Shocked At What Students Are Willing To Pay
Joe hit a snag when he realized that the initially randomly chosen price of $50 was all too affordable to these supposedly broke college students, and he was so flooded with orders that he couldn't keep up. "I decided to set a rate of $100 per thousand words, and have a policy to not accept any assignments less than that." See? Already he'd learned a semester's worth of lessons about supply and demand.
"You better have. I'm giving you $200 for my Econ final."
As more and more customers came to him with more and more ridiculous requests, the need for setting more policies became apparent. "One of my regulars came to me asking if I could write his 1,500-word English comp essay," he says. "I asked him when it was due, and he simply told me, 'In three hours.' I had to turn him down obviously, and to this day I still don't know if he managed to turn that paper on time."
What kind of person resorts to this kind of (very expensive) cheating? For the most part, it's exactly who you'd expect: "They were mostly a combination of spoiled rich kids and irresponsible frat boys," he says. "They were the kids who took only what they felt were the easiest classes they could and put more time and effort into planning out themed parties on the weekends [and] stressing out more over who's going to drive around their intoxicated asses on Saturday than they did over finals week. ... Most of my customers were the kinds of kids who believed that you can make any problem go away by throwing money at it, the types that probably never had to do things on their own growing up."
They'll be lost when their family runs out of money!
... God, we hope their family runs out of money.
But then you had the overachievers who were in over their heads, students who had actually taken on too much work and had to choose between letting their GPAs take a hit (clearly not an option) or do some creative outsourcing. These were the students who felt so guilty that they needed to rationalize their choice to themselves and even to Joe, who couldn't have given any part of a fuck as long as they had the money.
"I'd constantly get the 'I have work' or 'I was sick this whole week' stories," Joe says. "A client of mine once gave me his entire story about how he couldn't do a paper because a tree fell on his car. To this day, I don't know if this was actually true [or] how that would stop you from completing an assignment, nor did I really care about any of that. He had the money and I had the time, so it was a win-win for all of us. Unless of course a tree really did fall on his car."
"Look, I'm clearly failing this Botany midterm. The least you could do is help me pass Russian History."
The Paper Might Not Be Good, But It Doesn't Have To Be
According to Joe, writing papers for other people's classes can actually be a lot more stressful than your own. "You get a bad grade on one of your papers, and you can just shrug it off and hope the grades are curved at the end of the semester," he explains. "But when you fuck up on someone else's paper after they paid you money to write it, you're gonna have one angry undergrad looking for a refund."
And when you piss off one Phi Kappa Phi, you piss off all of Phi Kappa Phi.
On the other hand, Joe quickly learned that his customers weren't expecting expert-level analyses of Notes From The Underground. "Most of my customers were really only looking for passing grades," he says. He always stressed to customers that he could not guarantee an A, but they could rest assured he would get them at least a C. Anyone who's ever had to Frankenstein a book report out of CliffsNotes and bullshit knows that it's not actually that hard to slap together a mediocre paper, which raises the question of why anyone would pay 10 cents a word for it. Apparently any effort is too much effort when you really really don't wanna.
But even if you didn't have time to read Moby Dick between keg stands, you at least had the advantage of attending the occasional lecture. Often, Joe was diving in completely blind. In order to cobble together a barely passing knowledge of the subject at hand, he says, "I would look at [the professors'] rubrics because that's pretty much what they need for a passing grade. Sometimes I would just ask that person if they have any class notes or if they have any PowerPoints." From there, all it took was a quick trip to the library to skim a few articles on Google Scholar, because textbooks, Joe says, are even more of a ripoff than you think. "Most of the stuff, you can find online," he says.
No wonder the trees hate us.
In case you didn't have enough of a reason, now's a good time to take a long look at your student loan bill and weep silently. We'll wait.
Of course, the hard part is not getting caught -- it's not like professors have never heard of the concept of cheating before. That's why ...
There Are Subtle Techniques For Making Sure Papers Look Authentic
You might think Joe's business was booming because he wrote the best papers in town. But in fact, Joe was careful to make sure that nothing he wrote was too good, because that would actually be suspicious. See, the advantage of a service like Joe's is that you get a completely original paper that won't trip any plagiarism detection software your professor might use, which is always a risk if you decide, for example, to just copy and paste from Wikipedia or buy a paper off the Internet (which, yes, is an option, and no, we're not going to tell you where. Also, call your mother.).
For cases of repeated plagiarism, suspension or expulsion is likely.
However, if you're the kind of lazy asshole who would pay someone to write your paper, you probably weren't putting in a ton of effort to begin with. If you suddenly turn in the kind of prose that brings a tear to your professor's eye, he or she's going to know something is up. That's why, Joe says, "A question that I asked every single one of my customers is if they've ever written for that particular professor before. If the answer is yes, then I will ask for anything they've written for that professor so that I can mimic the student's writing style."
Studying the customer's previous writing was nearly as important as studying what the hell he was even writing about: "One little trick that I would do to best camouflage my writing is to mimic the student's mistakes," Joe says. "Do they have a tendency to use run-on sentences? Do they split infinitives? One of my customers always messed up in-text citations (a thing that professors tend to be sticklers about), while another one of my customers didn't know how to use commas to save his life. He would have sentences that go, 'Today after class I smoked some weed crack and salvia.' Believe it or not, professors pick up on these types of things."
"Oh, hell no; motherfuckers don't just 'suddenly' learn semicolons."
It's that kind of attention to detail that ensured that for the duration of his tenure, Joe never got caught, an accomplishment that is kind of sad he can't brag about on his resume. It seems like there are probably half a dozen careers in which being able to perfectly mimic someone else's writing while bullshitting your way through a complicated subject would earn you a nice living.
Yes, Ultimately The Customers Are Only Cheating Themselves
The most surprising thing that Joe learned doing this job was just how much he learned. In fact, he says, "I would say the knowledge I gained as a result of my entrepreneurial enterprise had a bigger and better impact on my life than the money I earned." This is due to having to give himself a crash course in the subject matter before beginning an assignment, only to immediately have to do it all over again. "My roommate's essay gave me a better understanding on why we're no longer on the gold standard. I ended up watching beautiful films by the masters of cinema such as Kurosawa, Fellini, and Truffaut for foreign film assignments. Writing philosophy papers gave me some insight into the works of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Peter Singer, and that Plato was the dude's wrestling nickname (apparently his real name was Aristocles)."
And he bought all his papers from Antisthenes, some nerd in his Socrates class.
We'll be the first to tell you that in-depth knowledge of samurai films doesn't easily translate to a corner office, but if that's your only goal, why bother with college at all? Why not do what your grandpa is always going on about and work your way up from the mailroom, whatever that is? Joe says he "slowly came to the realization that maybe professors didn't assign essays to torture their students," and maybe universities don't require foofy liberal arts credits just because they're jealous of all that rock-hard science. What we're saying is that ultimately, his classmates were doing the equivalent of paying for a meal at an expensive restaurant, and then paying someone else to eat their food. Though we suppose this analogy breaks down when it's their parents who are footing the bill.
And commemorative "I ate the whole thing" certificates are more of a shitty steakhouse thing.
Oh, and remember all those hard-partying frat guys who threw cash at Joe to make sure they didn't fail the classes they were too hungover to attend? If you were wondering, most of these kids -- at least, the ones Joe kept tabs on -- did graduate and get good jobs. Mostly, they went into business. There's no shortage of things that explains.
Manna pays a small army of smelly 12-year-olds to write her tweets for her; follow her at @Manna_Festo.
For more insider perspectives, check out 7 Weird Things You Learn As A Professional Diver and 6 Things You Learn In A Town Prepared For The Apocalypse.
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