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Can cheating lead to acceptance? Yes, in a way.

I just read an article that infuriated me.  It was a confessional written by a ghostwriter who sells customized essays, term papers, theses, and other scholarly works to undergrads and post-grads.  The article describes how these students pay this ghostwriter top dollar to write their papers, on short notice, sending specific instructions in almost illegible English.  This ghostwriter has written countless application essays, term papers, and theses.  His clientele includes graduate and PhD students, and he makes $66,000 a year from this rather unethical career.  It was a well-written article, although a bit cocky and seemingly embellished for effect, it was an interesting perspective from the (mostly) invisible side of cheating.

There is no denying that these services exist, regardless of the extent to which this ghostwriter exaggerated his article to increase Facebook posts.  With the internet, especially Wikipedia and Google, it is likely much easier to cheat today than it was back when I graduated from college.  Not like I would know.  I cheated exactly once in my academic career, and that was in 8th grade when I handed in a poem that I didn’t write.  I didn’t get caught (it wasn’t that great of a poem), but I think I was sick to my stomach for a week while I waited for the poems to be graded.

(Side note, because I know you’re going to ask anyway:  Why would someone who loves to write cheat on a poetry assignment, instead of, say, an algebra problem?  Because I was actually good at math, but I hated poetry.  Still do, in fact.  I love to read and write prose, but poetry eludes me.  I’ve never been able to write poetry, though I’ve never stopped trying.  My best poems are the ones I’ve created on the fridge using my magnetic poetry kit, with a glass of wine in one hand.)

Last year I tried so hard to get into grad school.  I applied for two different programs at my alma mater.  I studied diligently for the GREs and got a great score.  I wrote my own application essays that were, if I do say so myself, pretty awesome.  Although one program was a bit far-fetched for my undergrad degree (and I wasn’t really expecting to get in), I was more than a little bit surprised when I got a rejection letter from the other.  The rejection letter said that I had great qualifications, but there were too many applicants and not enough space in the program.  I figured my age had a lot to do with it, but I’ll never really know.

(Another side note:  My rejection from grad school was perhaps the official beginning of the “chrome phase”.  I felt like a total loser, literally a reject.  I kept those feelings to myself, and eventually I got over them enough to sleep at night, but it made me realize that I couldn’t just go back to the way things were.  I wanted more out of life, and since my alma mater rejected me, I had to figure out something else to do!)

So, back on the subject, this ghostwriter’s article got me fired up mostly because I’m not a cheater.  I love to learn, I love to study, I love to read, and of course I love to write.  I’m a genuine nerd.  It never would have occurred to me to cheat, because by doing so I would have missed the opportunity to learn something from the assignment.  If I couldn’t learn it adequately, I got a B (or even the dreaded C) on the assignment instead of an A.

Naturally, now I am forced to wonder how many of the students who were accepted into the program from which I was rejected are truly doing the work.  How many of these grad students are falling prey to laziness or lack of interest and hiring a ghostwriter to write their papers?  Even if it is only one, I feel cheated.  That one person who isn’t taking their education seriously could have been replaced by me.  I would have studied my arse off, spent hours in the library researching my topics, written every single word of every single paper I was assigned, and I would have enjoyed every second of it.  In two years it could be me proudly accepting my master’s degree, and finally pursuing a career I’ve wanted since undergrad (one which cannot be obtained without a master’s degree).

(One more side note, because I need to clarify that I do not wish to start a debate:  I am not going to share the link to this ghostwriter’s article.  I realize that for every one student who cheats, there are a hundred who do not.  I also know that there is no one place to put the blame for the fact that the ghostwriter has a job at all.  Even disciplinary methods are debatable.  I read several of the 300 comments under the article, and there is nothing to be said that hasn’t been said already.)

Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that I got rejected from grad school.  I would have spent a ridiculous amount of money to buy a degree and would possibly have had to suffer a B instead of an A because I refused to cheat.  Meanwhile, how would I know the kid sitting next to me who received an A was working with the same integrity?  Would it be a fair game?  Would the professor recognize it if someone did cheat?  And would I actually be able to go through two years of classes without dwelling on that?  There is no way to know the answer to any of these questions, and that would drive me nuts for sure.

So thank you, ghostwriter, for bringing me one step closer to true acceptance of my grad school rejection letter.  It doesn’t seem like the best way towards acceptance, but sometimes I’m okay with taking what I can get.  However, I may never be able to accept that I’m a crappy poet.  Maybe I’ll ask that ghostwriter to write a few poems for me.  But then what will I have learned?

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