Run of the essay mill: Students evade plagiarism detectors by buying and selling original essays

There are several “essay mill” websites which students can go to and have an essay written for them. Depending on the website, this can cost hundreds of dollars. Photo by Hanna Yorke.

There are more ways than one to cheat your way through college.

While the nationwide admissions scandal reaffirmed suspicions about wealth and power in the collegiate system, virtually any college student can pay to have their coursework completed for them. And while technology has made it easier for essay mills to operate, it’s also made it easier to get caught, creating a virtual arms race of cheating and cheating detection.

Close to 16 percent of students have paid someone to do their work for them, and that number continues to rise, according to Frontiers research.

“I paid a friend to do all of my online Spanish homework freshman year, because I was so busy with sports,” said a junior public relations and advertising major who agreed to candor in exchange for anonymity. With the little free time she had, her Spanish assignments were the last thing she wanted to do, so she paid a friend who was good at Spanish $20 per assignment.

“Each assignment took 1-2 hours,” she said. She doesn’t regret paying for the ‘A’ and would pay someone again if she felt squeezed for time.

“I sell my essays to my close friends only,” said another Chapman student who wrote essays for GE classes. This student is aware that getting caught would ruin her college career, but said so far no one for whom she works has gotten caught.

“I’ve only done a handful,” which amounted to a couple hundred dollars, said the student. “The bar isn’t set that high, so as long as I write [the essays] well my friends are happy.”

Chapman’s Academic Integrity Committee (AIC) handles all cases of cheating, plagiarism, and other academic violations. Penalties for academic dishonesty are outlined on the AIC website and can range from a disciplinary warning to expulsion..

The AIC declined to comment on anything which wasn’t already on their website.

“Submission of purchased term papers or projects done by others” is a violation of the university’s Academic Integrity Policy. “Having another person take an exam or complete an assignment for oneself” and “taking an exam or completing an assignment for another student” is also a violation.

“When you come off as intelligent in a class, it’s easy to have a lot of ‘close friends’ who are willing to pay upwards of $45 a page,” said the essay entrepreneur. It’s also easy for her to stay under the radar, because most people wouldn’t expect her to be a good writer based on her major.

“It speaks to nature of capitalism, in that if a rich kid would rather pay me to have more free time that’s just the evolution of the free market,” said the essay entrepreneur.

While students might think it’s easy to get away with cheating, English professor Samantha Dressel said she can usually spot unoriginal copy.

“A lot of it boils down to becoming familiar with students’ writing over the course of the semester and looking at papers with an eye toward their expected style, knowledge base, and writing habits,” Dressel said. “As an English professional, it is literally my job to notice style and usage, so even when I’m not consciously looking for plagiarism, I notice when something isn’t as it should be.”

There are also plagiarism detection services, such as Turnitin, that have made cheating in the digital world more difficult. Turnitin has a database of content including students’ papers, publications and academic journals which the program uses to check for plagiarism.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio is the system used to detect writing that matches with existing content in the site’s database and works by providing a percentage score for the amount of writing that’s unoriginal. Papers with a match score higher than 50% are flagged for potential plagiarism and must be further reviewed by the educator.

However, Turnitin has its downsides. Random phrases can be flagged, even if they were not plagiarized, because the website has amassed so much content that some words match up by pure coincidence. The system also identifies plagiarized content from online sources, so students can still copy from print publications, states Turnitin.

The program has been effective in decreasing the amount of unoriginal work submitted, according to a study conducted by Turnitin. However, the system can’t detect customized, original essays commissioned by customers.

There is also a plethora of apps and websites where panicked students can go to buy essays, such as EssayMill, EssayPro, and Unemployed Professors. These websites prompt you to enter the parameters of your paper and credit card information. There are also informal arrangements less productive students make with those willing to sell their intellectual labors for a price.

EssayMill charges $17.56 per page, and they also offer services like editing and proofreading for a slightly lower cost. Prices for these services may vary, however, depending on the provider, the type of essay desired, the number of pages needed and the deadline for the finished product.