I Was a Student Ghost Writer Until I Realized What I Was Enabling

One of my customers thought Huckleberry Finn was black.

By Bettina De Mesa, California State University at Fullerton

College students are notoriously broke.

From gorging on instant ramen to stealing condiments from the dining hall, there’s no limit to their desperation.

It’s ingenious in a way, the creativity that goes into devising makeshift ways to survive the semester. I decided to forgo the ramen route and instead chose to write other students’ papers for money.

For one, I’m good at academic writing: I’ve busted out A+ research papers in less than 3 hours on multiple occasions. Plus, unlike most jobs geared for college students, my hours were flexible and the pay was roughly $25/hour, enough to fill my gas tank and facilitate my addiction to Jager.

To start my business, I had to first reprioritize my schedule. I am a full-time student with a full-time job, and I was worried that the pressure of taking four extra units would make me crack and become a stripper. Trust me, no one wants to see me become a stripper. Imagine Jello.

As an academic ghost-writer, you’re basically a drug dealer. You facilitate the exchange of contraband for monetary gain.

But, instead of marijuana, your drug of choice is literacy. And as nerdy as that might sound, it’s nice to get a little street cred around the universities.

Like drug dealing, universities have a zero-tolerance policy for academic dishonesty. There’s seminars dedicated to plagiarism and an honor code that most students agree to abide by before they begin classes. In every syllabus, professors are sure to include their policy for cheating.

In other words, THIS WAS A BIG DEAL. If either party were caught, we would both have to accept the possibility of getting expelled. Then I really would have to be a stripper. I thought about the risks, and then a few minutes later I thought about my student loans, and the decision was clear: Like the Pensters, the academic ghostwriters that will write your papers for you, I decided to write other students’ papers for money.

The next step I took was to advertise my services on social media. I chose to stay anonymous for liability reasons, and so yes, I realize the irony in me writing this article. But I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided that the opportunity to dissuade other student ghost writers is worth the risk.

At first, I paid for advertising space on Facebook. It was $5/day and yielded 4-6 likes per day, but it didn’t really garner any interest. After I realized that I was losing money, I decided to post my ads on Craigslist. For the mere price of completely free, you’re able to post as many ads as you want in as many cities as you want. I weeded through all the weirdos and I eventually found a reliable customer. We’ll call him Dewey.

Dewey went to a nearby community college and was on his way to transferring to a four-year university as a mechanical engineering major. He excelled in subjects like multi-variable calculus and advanced physics, but English was his weakness.

In a desperate attempt to preserve his acceptance into the university, he enlisted my help to ghostwrite his essays for his last requirement: an English composition class. I remembered taking this class at my school, and realized that its basic objective—developing fundamental literacy skills such as writing a persuasive argument or critically analyzing papers—weren’t superfluous, not to an engineer nor any other major.

As I wrote essay after essay for him I watched my writing improve, but did it matter? I didn’t need the practice; my customer did. He’ll graduate college and get a job, yes, but he’ll lack the ability to write a sales report or employee summary. All I was doing was encouraging laziness and entitlement. A diploma was printed and given, but did he really gain everything that a college education has to offer? Someday, Dewey is going to design a machine without being able to elaborate his ideas on paper. This must be how car engines explode unexpectedly.

This ethical dilemma aside, Dewey passed his class and I made a lot of money. I had a steady income throughout the semester with very little effort, and I was able to invest the money that I didn’t spend into my savings account.

Eventually though, I stopped writing papers for other students. It wasn’t because I got caught or was punitively paranoid, but because I got tired of enabling their embarrassing illiteracy.

When I asked customers for basic information that was critical to writing the papers, their inane responses are still the only clues I have for understanding why Donald Trump has a chance politically.

One of my customers needed a personal narrative for their upper-division writing class. All they had to do in the first three weeks of class was write a one-page outline of their paper, and then the next month was dedicated to writing the actual paper. My client paid me $75 to do the outline and another $75 for the paper. It’s not that he didn’t have the ability to write the paper, he just lacked the ambition to better himself.

Ultimately though, I didn’t have the right to pass judgment on my clientele. Yes, they are paying to have someone else write papers for them, but I was the one taking the money. I decided that while it was nice to have disposable income, not if it came at the cost of enabling laziness.

I know I sound like a mom or one of those uptight professors, but now I understand why universities place so much emphasis on the honor code. It’s to ensure that each student is able to make the best out of their $20,000/year college experience. If you’re going to let colleges put you under a heap of student loans, you should at least try and get your money’s worth out of the education.