The essay mill industry has been condemned by everyone: lecturers, politicians, journalists and fellow students. Yet despite the growing backlash, the industry is flourishing all over the world. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, the business exchange is simple one. If a student has the money they can outsource their university coursework to a paid online expert at any time they wish. It is too easy to see an essay mill as an entirely bad thing and it might surprise some to learn that this article concludes by focusing on the redemptive aspects of the industry. I did not create this website to help people to cheat, but to make sure those who are in desperate need of help don’t get scammed like my son did.
The main and most vocal critics of this practice have been the politicians and journalists. Their rhetoric has been simple, that the students who use this service are ‘cheats’, that they are lazy and have too much money for their own good. The media often equates paying for essays with a supposed affluence and while there will be some who match the aforementioned description, it is quite clear that the media has created a caricature of the essay mill customer to suit their own convenience. I know this first-hand from having taken time to research this industry and the people who are using it. The best example I can give is a personal one, my son, who could not be considered either lazy or rich (in fact quite the opposite), found himself as a customer of one of these companies.
It is completely understandable as to why this industry is frowned upon. On the surface it looks abhorrent and it appears as nothing more than a quick fix for the rich to fast track themselves into the future employment of their design. The fear rightly exists that if you are in a position to ‘buy’ your degree that you are not the genuine article and what sort of precedent does that set for your employment and the person who is employing you? Can we really trust doctors, engineers, nurses or lawyers who did not do the work or study themselves? The consequences of that scenario are pretty terrifying.
How much does an essay mill dissertation cost?
As I previously mentioned, the ‘go to’ impression of the industry is that only the rich can afford to pay for this service and on the surface it’s a reasonable assumption to make. The services provided are not cheap, with an undergraduate dissertation costing anything from £400 to £3,000. Additionally if you need something urgently, or more complex (a common example being laboratory reports) then the price continues to rise. In this industry, as like many others, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ remains true. Cheaper essay services are such because they are written by people who are not based in the UK and who might have never studied at a UK institution. It goes without saying that in order to get the best quality work you’re going to need more considerable means to pay for it.
Along with the financial implications of being a customer, a student also has to deal with the potential repercussions if they are caught. The consequences of being caught are severe, but depend largely on the University the individual is attending.
After personally considering the cost, the risk and the potential consequences, I found myself asking the same questions over again. ‘Why does this industry exist in the first place’?
Why does this industry exist?
I mentioned my son earlier on in this piece and he is the reason I am writing about this industry now - and the reason for this website. He used an essay mill and once I got over the shock of how much he had paid for help and the severity of the trouble he had found himself in, I took him aside and asked him why he did it.
My son is very similar to me in many ways, so at first I was confused. He is an intelligent man, had always been academically attentive and was definitely not a lazy person; he had proven that when working incredibly hard to get into his first choice University.
It took him a while for him to face me, to ‘come clean’ and tell me why he had done it; he clearly felt a deep sadness that it had taken him a while to overcome. When we did finally talk, what he said shocked and upset me. He explained that he had been desperate; that there were too many deadlines, the sheer volume of work kept him up at night and that the time he had been allocated for each piece of work was simply not enough.
My initial reaction had been dismissive, University isn’t supposed to be easy after all. But as he further explained the situation I realised that what he had experienced on his course was so far removed from what I had seen during my own University years. I came to the conclusion that modern University life was unrecognisable from what it had been forty years previously.
After this realisation my reaction had been to blame the lecturers, who I deemed held a certain amount of responsibility for this issue. I began to observe how much of a bureaucracy university life was for the lecturers themselves, who were often under pressures on their own research. When I spoke to my son and several of his friends, the message that reached me was that (apart from the minority) their lecturers had lost the passion for teaching and that they no longer had time to support their students emotionally. The carefree learning environment I experienced at University had changed and my experience of lecturers always having time to see their students no longer existed. The weight of money, amongst other things, has crushed the life out of tertiary education from the top down.
The current budget for providing student support is minimal, while the demand for emotional support is going up and recent studies into this have revealed that ‘that over the past five years 94% of universities have seen a "sharp increase" in the number of people trying to access support services’. On top of this Universities are trying to cater for the increasing number of international students (who pay even more expensive tuition fees than students from the UK) but even with this increased income it appears that these institutions simply don’t have the money to facilitate students in a necessary fashion. We have reached a crisis point to the extent where Professor Steve West, the head of mental health of Universities UK has said that the current system needs to be ‘radically changed’; he also added that ‘If we ignore it we will have failed a generation’.
Once a cheat, always a cheat
After spending some time talking to my son’s friends, I soon remembered that being a student was so much more than just the studying. To some this may sound like the beginning of a list of excuses, but for me it is the practise of highlighting a multitude of things that are far too easily overlooked when weighing up this situation. Regardless of your position, it is important to understand some of the concerns that I have about modern university life.
For many people studying in the UK, not only is the student life the first time they have moved away from home, but it is also the first time that they have been expected to look after themselves independently. That means that they are thrust into an environment, often away from their old sources of emotional support, where they are faced with new and difficult decisions. Decisions surrounding finances, health, social life and study are now entirely of their own making and it is a lot of responsibility granted to someone who may have had little to no previous experience of it.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, imagine if you were one of the international students who was expected to do all of this in a second language, or perhaps, were a single mother who needed to deal with the endless needs of a small child. The situation is not the same for everyone and this needs to be reflected in how they are treated in their places of study.
Taking this into consideration, one of the main reasons that led my son to the essay mill was that he was denied an extension for his work. The reason that he gave the lecturer was that he was being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of assignments, but this was not deemed a ‘valid’ excuse. When he asked his classmates for help it soon became apparent that they were all struggling and in many cases failing with the workload too.
His next step was to hire online help, in the form of a tutor, but it was clear that much like his own lecturers that online support was also devoid of any real desire to help. This is when, feeling completely out of other options, my son turned to this industry. He asked a specific question and got a specific answer. When he realised what was on offer he said he felt a mixture of sheer relief and deep guilt and despite the rather high price purchased an assignment.
The thing that struck me as interesting about this whole experience is the fact that my son didn’t actually submit what he had purchased. He spent all that money to use the work as a template, to help him understand that which he hadn’t before. In my confusion I asked him why he hadn’t just submitted the work as it was, it seemed bizarre to me that he would be spending all of that money on a service which was simply a helping hand. He had looked at me with an equally puzzled face and said ‘it would be obvious I hadn’t written it, the style was completely different to my other work’.
My son told me that he didn’t order from the company again for a while, there had been a break in the previously incessant pressure he had been under. It was when he was put in another similarly difficult situation later on that he would get into trouble.
“The trick is to stop thinking of it as ‘your’ money.” – IRS auditor
The common perception of students is that they are poor; it remains a stereotype that has permeated popular culture in the UK. It comes from a time where, if you were lucky, you would send one child per family to university. Now, with increased access to bank loans and the internet, it is a lot easier to facilitate education for more people.
Student loans are curious things and often require you to divide them up into term time based ‘chunks’ in order to ensure you have enough money to feed yourself. The majority of students have a job, realising that once their education is finished, the loan is not going to pay for itself.
My son expressed that both he and some of his friends justified the expenditure for the essays quite easily from a financial perspective.
If we evaluate my son’s situation, he was in a position where he was struggling to understand the work and had asked for more time – but this had been denied. He did not have enough time, which was the reason for his problem and so had to do what he could with the resources available to him to get by. One of his most important resources was of course his student loan.
Let this be clear, my son had spent a considerable portion of his loan, the money afforded to him to pay for the living ‘necessities’, food and rent, etc. to pay for this service. He deemed the need to succeed at University (a university that had denied him a week long extension) to be as important as food or a roof over his head, this was scale of the pressure he was under. It is a damning verdict but I can come to no other conclusion.
Apart from the classic argument ‘loaned money vs earned money’, and how it is a lot easier to justify spending money that you have not earned yourself, you must understand how a student might come to the conclusion of turning to the essay mill. In my son’s case, if he had a better initial understanding of what was required, or if he had been handed a one week extension, then he would not have had to use this service. But at the time he had a number of other essays to hand in, he was faced with either failing the coursework altogether and the guilt and shame associated with that, or taking this short cut. Knowing what I do now, I think that I would have done exactly the same in his situation.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Having taken the time to research a number of companies in the industry, what surprised me most was the hit and miss aspect with regards to the quality of the work. The situation which compromised my son’s education had been the third time he used the industry for help. As I mentioned earlier, the first piece he received had been a very good piece of work and his second order (which were exam revision notes) also helped him a lot. But when he used the same company for a third time and final time he received a terrible piece of work, which was full of obviously wrong calculations. He has now surmised that the work was so poor because of how late he had left before ordering it, a decision that again was delayed because of how conflicted he was. This meant he also had little to no time to properly review the calculations himself after receiving the order. The work damaged his overall course mark, dragging him from a 1st into a 2.1 grade. He was later called to see his lecturer to justify his calculations, the lecturer said it was unlike him to follow such a flawed line of logic and that they had reason to suspect it wasn’t his work. In the end I feel that the only thing he was actually guilty of was asking for help, which is bitterly disappointing to hear as a parent. When you send your children to university you relinquish the reigns of parental responsibility, they are passed to both your child and to the University they are attending. My son knows that he was responsible for what he did, but in this situation the guidance and help was not there and that should be inexcusable.
There is no need for me to go into detail about what happened next. My son tells me that he still feels a sense of betrayal; even though he knew what he was doing was wrong. In reality the betrayal of the essay mill wasn’t the first he had dealt with, the lack of extension had been. He felt let down, that as a paying customer who had received two top class orders that he had been completely ruined by the third. While he understood that all three pieces were done by different people he didn’t understand how the qualities could be so drastically different, the company claimed to ‘quality check’ each order before sending. How did they manage to fail so badly?
This is the most important aspect in my decision to start researching the industry and the reason as to why I created this website.
When searching essay mills online it would appear that there are thousands of different companies operating in this industry, with that number continuing to multiply at an alarming rate. However, once you spend time doing the investigative work, talking to the live chats and browsing their websites etc. you begin to realise that there are only a few truly important companies in this industry. Multiple websites operate under the control of a single company, where these websites appear different on the surface but each enquiry on every website goes to the same place. This is instantly problematic.
If a single company owns both a website that has expensive prices and good reviews, and a budget company which operates on the basis of providing as cheap a service as possible, customers put themselves in a dangerous situation.
The expensive service and the budget service share a pool of writers, and while they can cater to the needs of the individual most of the time (the clients paying the most money get the best writers) certain problems can arise. Now, as previously explained, essay writing is skilled and something that takes time, it is also something that is unpredictable and subject to delay or change. The problematic thing is, that if a premium service finds themselves in a situation where their top writers are unavailable, they can easily outsource the work to a writer who they primarily use for the budget service. My son and I have come to realise that this is how he had fallen foul of this industry. I want people to realise that the industry is not always as it seems to be and that it is hugely important to be aware of the reputations of each company based on all of their websites and not just the one that they see the most.
I feel like it is all too easy to place the blame squarely at the feet of the students. The media and politicians who have spoken on this matter seem happy to point the finger and label everyone who associates with essay mills as cheats; I feel the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.
These companies are becoming more and more successful for a reason and their services are hugely popular despite their very public reputation. I believe that Universities have to take responsibility; they have a massive part to play in this problem, essay mills are filling a gap in the market that never used to exist. It is a duty of care on the part of the University to help nurture their students, not to leave them on their own after lectures and seminars are finished whilst tuition fees are higher than ever and support is at the lowest it has ever been. Where does the money go? And why isn’t it being used to positively impact on the lives and experiences of the people who are paying?
My understanding is that the vast majority of students would not use an essay mill if they felt like they had any other alternative. The consensus is that it is a desperation out of not wanting to fail that drives them to the doors of these companies and I cannot say that I blame them.
I cannot give any operational advice on how to run something as complex as a University, I have no experience in the matter; however I feel like it is my place to make a suggestion. My advice would be to try to understand that all of your students are different, that they have individual needs and skills. Everyone deals with new information, learning and stress in ways that are unique to themselves and so treating everyone in the same fashion is bound to isolate those who can’t conform.
We shouldn’t need to blame essay mills for this situation; we should be asking the questions as to how they can so easily exist within our tertiary educational structure. Students pay thousands and thousands of pounds per year to study at these institutions, do they not at least deserve the amount of dedication and time they need? I truly believe that if every student was catered for based on their individual needs then there would be no real issue with essay mills and students would be able to cope by themselves.