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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Are we aiding and abetting fraud?

So, I was driving to school today and as always was listening to NPR (that's my self-promoting conversational piece informing you on how intelligent and connected I am) really, I just like the coverage on the campaign and "This American Life." Okay, I am already getting off topic and I haven't even gotten on topic yet.
Anyhow, the story I was listening to was about a woman who used to be a part of the admissions committee at Dartmouth and is now working as an independent consultant helping students with the admissions process for schools. For a cool $40,000, she will work with you from 9th grade to graduation to help prepare you for your college admissions process. And for the budget price of $14,000, she will help you write and revise your college application essay.
So, how in the world does this correlate to our world? Well, her work with college applications includes helping students decide on effective topics (staying away from "teen angst, or the teddy bear on their bed") and helping them revise and polish their admissions essays. The commentator on the other side of the story was concerned that her work with the students was basically fraud, because the help that she was giving students was clouding their own work. Maybe better stated, the concern was that by helping students pick topics and polish their essays, she was helping them misrepresent their actual abilities.
My question is this: When we work with people on application essays, are we committing a form of fraud? Are we helping them misrepresent their abilities? I realize that this sounds like a ridiculous question since our philosophy is helping students become better writers while maintaining their roles as writers of their own papers. My trouble comes from the fact that the consultant on the radio today claimed the same ideals. How does our work differ from hers if we have only one consultation with a person specifically to polish a college application? What can we do in our own consultations to ensure that we are not aiding and abetting fraud?

4 comments:

  1. Am I reading that right - $14,000 for help with one essay? Sounds like fraud (of a different kind).

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  2. sidecar11:45 AM

    First off, I agree with Andrew. Can *I* charge $14,000? Heck, can I charge $14?

    But getting to the real issue...no. No, we're not committing fraud. Are published authors any less talented just because they have an editor look over their work before publication? No way! EVERYONE gets help on their writing, particularly good writers!


    The real question is any family that can shovel out $14,000-$40,000 to get their kid *into* college should maybe be saving that money for--oh, I don't know--TUITION.

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  3. I suppose the question would be: are we actually helping students to "misrepresent" themselves or are we helping them to determine the best light in which they can present an audience-appropriate version of their true selves. When it comes to resumes, cover letters, application essays, and the like, I like to think about those texts as creative non-fiction. Perhaps we are like interior designers a bit: we help students to play around with window dressings and furniture and aesthetic choices, but the house, the foundation remains unchanged. Therefore, I do not consider our work to be fraud. In addition, students do not have to directly pay for our services. Of course, I might be a little biased here :)

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  4. I suppose there's an expectation of "success" (entry into the Ivy League or #1 Choice School) with the paid consultant and if the expectation is not satisfied, the student/customer can seek a refund.

    We do not have a direct connection to "success" with the student/writers we work with. We try to move toward a more nebulous term--"better writer" or "find his/her voice" which carries with the student, broader application throughout their career. The work we do may guide that writer toward an "A," immediately, or it may simply "open" up that student's mind to creating "better writing" down the road.

    The consultant only gets her student "in through the front door" but has no concern for her clients once/if they get there. I wonder if there's a way to track her clients and their graduation/transfer rates?

    I don't mind the idea of this consultant. I do object to her pricing, but if I could charge those sums for my own expertise I would. I guess I'm more savage and direct when it comes to markets and prices.

    I wouldn't mind seeking out a career consultant. Most of the time I try to think about my career in positive, generalist, "moving toward a goal" type terms, but half of the time, I literally walk toward my car thinking, "what the EXPLETIVE am I doing." Where I see myself wanting to go seems like a l o n g way away and having someone to talk to to get there doesn't seem like a bad idea.

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