Welcome to Scam Academy, where you'll find stories of schemes and cheats from within the high schools and colleges of America. If you cheated and want to share how you did it and why, please email Senior Staff Writer Allie Conti: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today we hear from a 31-year-old graduate of a private liberal arts college who says he's written at least 40 papers to help people get their doctorates.
I graduated with a degree in rhetoric in 2009—right into the recession. I wanted to do something that was based in writing, and lots of companies that I thought could use my skills weren't interested. That kind of quickly devolved into me looking for any gig at all, but I couldn't even find a job flipping burgers at a hole in the wall despite having done that for three years in high school. For about four or five weeks, I was living in my Jeep, though I didn't want my family back home to know that I was struggling or for them to worry—they were having their own financial struggles.
Back in college, my professor suggested I start working at a tutoring center with upperclassmen who had larger papers to finish or needed to write essays in order to apply for grad school. I realized I was pretty good at it, since they would get good grades based on what I'd recommended, or get into medical schools like the Mayo Clinic. I got two friends from my fraternity into good schools as well. Someone eventually came to me and said they were in grad school and working on a thesis, but needed a second pair of eyes. After that, it was kind of a word-of-mouth thing for the first few clients that I had. I was editing and making suggestions.
But then I started advertising online on places like CraigsList and Reddit for that same service, and that kind of quickly turned into me approaching clients who were really, really struggling and saying, "Look, you have a deadline, and I can do this many pages for you if you can work on this other section instead." After all, most people are not going to reach out to someone who says they will do the entire thing for them—they don't want to come off as shady, and they know that, morally, it's not right. Usually, when people reach out, they say they want to write most of it themselves and have me do a once-over. Sure. Once we start working together and they see what I can do, they'll say something like, "Oh, maybe you should just take the wheel here."
If people are reaching out to me in general, though, they're in dire straits. Some guy might be in the Air Force Reserve and have three kids and a full-time job, so he doesn't have the time to put in to get it done, and if he doesn't get it done, he has to pay six grand to keep going with his degree for another semester. Or it's students who keep having to defer their graduation and rack up more debt. It weighs heavily on them, and some of them just really don't have the skills to write a full thesis or dissertation paper.
The main two fields I've worked in have been education and psychology. I've written so many papers about school bullying for some reason. But I've also had three or four people come to me who are getting medical degrees, and those I have to turn down—I don't want somebody to die based on a paper I’m writing. There was one person who came to me trying to develop a new kind of stent for arteries. If there's something that someone comes to me with that is out of my wheelhouse completely, or might be compromising to others based on what job the client might then get, I don't do it.
I remember a particular paper I worked on years ago—a dissertation in psychology. This woman who was working with children and was hoping to become a child psychologist was conducting a study on children of divorce and the different elements that impact their lives, both negatively and positively. I told her many times that I wouldn't be gathering data for her, and she had the proper Institutional Review Board paperwork to gather survey data through a local psychological institution and its child patients. One day I reminded her that she needed to get those surveys done ASAP to meet a deadline, and by the end of the day, she'd sent me over about 10 surveys that she had very obviously filled out herself. This was a PhD candidate who was to go on and work with children who were in fragile states. I stopped working with her then and there and told her she’d have to finish up on her own due to a family emergency on my side.
I also wrote one dissertation that was about 450 pages—it was horrible. The quality was actually pretty good, but what I mean by "horrible" is that it took me two years to do. This was for a top-15 university, and I'm not sure how this guy even got into the school. I'm pretty sure it had to do with money. Anyway, it had to do with a specific company and how their business was organized by decade, starting with the 1910s. He paid me $25,000. I usually charge about $80 to $100 per page, so he got a great deal.
Out of all the papers I've written, there was only one person who came back to me and did not pass his dissertation defense. He had not even read the paper that I wrote for him. It had to do with the budget of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He probably looked like a fool when he was standing up there and the professors were asking him all these questions about it. He went back two weeks later and slid through, though. So I guess it worked out for him in the end.
All the work I do is always 100 percent original and adds to the literature of whatever the field is. I know there are all kinds of paper-mill websites that rewrite pre-existing scholarship. But that's how I keep myself sane: by hoping the work I put out there is good, at least. Although I was probably making $70,000 a year at my peak, I've majorly cut back to working with just one student because I'm in my own graduate program now.
I actually ran into one of my old students recently at a mixer. He said he was working with some politician who was there meeting with the local mayor. This was a guy who was lazy and not just overwhelmed. He didn't really have a lot going on in his personal life. And it kind of made me think: Here I am, still hustling and writing papers as a side gig, and this dude's moving up pretty quickly without putting in any effort.
It didn't make me feel guilty, because this guy's got family ties, and pretty much everything he's done up to that point was based on someone else's efforts. In his case, maybe it makes me feel resentful. I don’t know.
The above has been edited and condensed for clarity. Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.