The web is full of dodgy types and one that students in particular should avoid are the essay cheats – or, as they’re sometimes called, ‘essay mills’.
The situation they prey on is common enough. An essay is due next week and you’re finding it too hard or you haven’t done the reading or there’s some thing else more important right now – your job, your boy/girlfriend, a different essay or even just a party. For a few quid (in fact, often quite a bit of money), you can make the problem go away. You can buy a ready-written essay, dissertation or even PhD thesis online and pass it off as your own.
Of course, the shysters offering this service don’t advertise that they’re there to help you cheat. They describe them as “sample essays” to “inspire” or “inform” your own work. However, they also describe them as “plagiarism-free” (so that, in theory, unis won’t spot it’s not the student’s own work). Why would they say that unless everyone knows the real score?
You know perfectly well this isn’t ethical and you shouldn’t do it. But, if morality isn’t enough to convince you to do the right thing, here are six reasons why you should never cheat.
1.You’re probably buying a piece of crap
Think about the people selling you the essay. They don’t have your interests at heart. They’re not bothered about customer service. They can say what they like about their product. It doesn’t have to be true. They can say it’s plagiarism-free, that it’s written by somehow who knows what they’re talking about, that it’ll score a 2:1 or a first, but how do you know? How do you know any of it’s true?
In fact, let’s suppose, just for a moment, they hope you might become a regular victim – I mean, customer – and so they really hope to give you a good service. Even they can’t be sure of the quality of what they sell you. They’re only as good as the people who write the essays for them and, let’s face it, morally what they’re doing is no better than the essay mills themselves. They’re probably students on the make who don’t know your course and don’t care if you pass or not. They want to do the minimum effort and get paid. Meanwhile, no one working for the essay mill has the skills to tell a good essay from a bad one.
2.You may well get caught
You don’t know what you’re getting (see above) and it’s not the essay mills problem if you get caught cheating. So it’s not safe to assume your tutor (or their computer) won’t recognise an essay mill product as quickly as if it had a neon sign. It’s easier to spot than you think. There’s plagiarism, which can be spotted by computer algorithms or just by any academic who knows their subject. There’s linguistic giveaways, like a student who uses words or a style that just doesn’t fit their own. There’s a sudden change in the standard of work, either up or down. There’s the same essay being sold to two students. And so on.
If your tutor has the slightest doubt, the jig will be up the moment they question you about ‘your’ work. Even assuming you’ve read what you submitted, you’d need to know it very well to explain it fully. In fact, you’d have to do so much work it would just be easier to write the essay yourself.
Once you’re caught, your uni might be nice: they might choose only to fail you for that piece of work. On the other hand, they could chuck you out or even take legal action.
3.You have no guarantees
So, you’ve been caught or may be just got a 40% mark when you’d paid for an essay that was ‘guaranteed’ to be 80%. What are you going to do about it? Get your money back?
Essay mills don’t have complaints hotlines. That ‘guarantee’ isn’t worth anything. Their terms and conditions (if they have any) will probably state that their essays are intended as a guide and so, if you’ve handed it in as your own and got a bad mark, that’s your problem.
Ultimately, they know you can’t make a fuss publicly, let alone sue them, because it would expose you as a cheat. They can – and will – rip you off and there’s nothing you can do about it.
4.You make your degree worth less
Let’s just suppose you’ll get away with it and your ill-gotten degree will help you get a job. Your boss won’t be taking you on because you have a certificate. They’re going to be employing you because of what that certificate means you know and what it means you can do. The first time that’s tested, you’ll come up wanting. Worst case: you’ll be fired.
You may think this essay on Victorian poets or South African water systems or whatever won’t have anything to do with your job. How will they know? They probably won’t, but they’ll be unimpressed by how your skills don’t match your qualifications.
The essay itself may never be directly relevant, but each time you do a piece of work, you’re developing your skills. You wouldn’t miss out how to brake when learning to drive, so why would you think you can miss out any part of your university education when it’s the learning process as a whole that creates the fully-equipped graduate.
There’s no point doing a degree in order to say you have a degree. You do it as proof of having learnt stuff and if you don’t really learn it, you just wasted your time and money.
5.You make everyone else’s degree worth less
Some people who buy an essay imagine lots of other people are doing the same. The fact is, most are not. But, if they were, that would mean employers would start to look at graduates and not really see any difference between them and non-graduates. Well, there would be differences: they would be older, less honest and in deeper debt. But their job skills wouldn’t be any better.
Employers would stop employing graduates. Or at least they’d stop paying them more than non-grads. Every time anyone buys a cheat essay, they’re damaging not only their own earning potential, but the future salaries of all graduates.
6.You’re making bad people rich
From a purely financial perspective, the people who set up essay mills have a good business model: where there’s desperation, there’s profit. They pay a few quid to desperate students to cobble together poor-quality essays, which they sell for inflated prices to other desperate students. No one can complain and – for now – they’re not even doing anything illegal (although if you submit the work as your own, you are).
Do you really want to help people to get rich by trading off your desperation? Especially the kind of people who would want to?
There is an alternative. Rather than buying an essay, talk to your tutor about your problems. They’re there to help. If you’re struggling with understanding the work, they’re there to teach. If you have other worries, they’d rather point you in the direction of help and give you an extension than see you fail your course or drop out of uni. It may not be an easy conversation, but it’s better than the one you’ll be having when you get caught.
Also, if you’re a student who could do with some extra money, never be tempted to offer your services to an essay mill. For the same reasons that they don’t look after their clients, they don’t look after their workers either. You may never get paid and, even if you do, that’s money you’ve got by playing a part in someone else’s misery. You’ve also undermined the value of everyone’s degree – including your own.
You may be wondering why essay mills are legal at all. You’d be right to wonder and the answer is that nothings illegal until there’s a law that says it is. The disgust at essay mills is growing and thousands of people do want to see essays mills made illegal. If you’d like to see an end to the cheating, please sign this petition which will force the Government to think about what it can do to outlaw the vultures.
JOHNNY RICH is the Push founder & managing director but is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Higher Education Academy and a member of Government advisory committees on higher education (BIS, HEFCE). He is a consultant to Which? University, BestCourse4me, and various universities, as well as a key consultant for U-Multirank. He is also a regular commentator on radio & TV on issues about student life, higher education and student finance, and a freelance journalist. His website is johnnyrich.com
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