- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

College-bound students are increasingly seeking professional help when writing application essays to get into the school of their choice, a practice some educators say corrupts the process and can lead to plagiarism.
"Students take short cuts," said Diane Waryold, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity in Durham, N.C. "They take those short cuts when they are out of time or when the stakes are high. And the stakes are high when it comes to getting into a good school."
The problem has become so expansive that some schools are thinking of eliminating the essay portion of the applications.
"There have been instances where college officials have seen the same essay," said Judith Hingle, director of professional development at the National Association for College Admission and Counseling.
Instead, schools may ask applicants to submit a writing sample from a school assignment, Miss Hingle said.
Even the College Board is considering adding a writing section on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) a move that could lead college officials to remove the essay questions from the applications, board officials said yesterday.
Duke University, for one, is making it clear to its undergraduate applicants that the school won't tolerate plagiarism or any other form of cheating on its applications. University admissions officials are now asking on the applications whether students had received any help in writing their essays. Duke is the only university to ask such a question on its applications.
"We recognize that all good writers seek feedback advice or editing before sending off an essay," the question on the application reads. "When you have completed your essay, please tell us whose advice you sought for help, the advice he/she provided, and whether you incorporated his/her suggestions."
Almost 95 percent of the applicants said they got some type of advice on their essays and less than 1 percent said they got help from the Internet or a private consultant, Duke admissions officials said yesterday. The university receives 16,000 applications for 1,600 freshman spots annually, officials said.
Business at at least two Internet-based companies that provide detailed evaluations and critiques of college essays has more than doubled over the last two years.
For example, EssaysEdge.com in Palm Springs, Calif. saw about 5,000 students each month this past academic year, compared to 2,000 students per month last year. Accepted.com in Los Angeles worked with nearly 500 students this year, compared to 250 last year.
"If the best writers have editors, why can't amateurs have editors as well?" said Linda Abraham, president of Accepted.com.
University officials aren't surprised because most suspect that students seek professional help on college applications. They just don't want students to get someone else to do their work.
"We don't ask that a student write their essays in splendid isolation," said Christoph Guttentag, admissions director at Duke. "We have no doubt there are students who seek professional help on their essays, and some do get too much help, and that's unfortunate. That's when you get essays that are so polished that the sense of the individual is completely lost."
Miss Waryold said other schools should follow Duke's lead.
"The question makes students stop and think," she said. "And it shows that universities want to attract people who put honor and integrity before anything else."

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