Business Schools Battle Ghostwriters
Business schools are clamping down on ghostwritten applications.
While ghostwritten applications — where applicants author their own recommendation letters or hire companies to write their admission essays — have been an issue for several years. The
Financial Times reports that a number of business schools are battling ghostwriters through technology and verification services.
“There are definitely ways in which we can see when something looks suspect,” Isser Gallogly, NYU Stern’s associate dean of MBA admissions and program innovation, tells Financial Times. “Every individual has their own writing style so if we spot similarities, that is cause for concern.”
40% of Applicants Have Been Asked to Ghostwrite Their Recommendation Letters
In a 2014 study conducted by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) — which was formed in 2006 to tackle ghostwritten applications — 40% of respondents said at least one manager asked them to draft their own recommendation letter.
Nick Barniville is associate dean of graduate programs at ESMT Berlin. He tells Financial Times that the desire for students to ghostwrite their application stems from lack of time. “MBA applicants suffer from the same problems as everyone else looking for a reference from a busy employer,” he says. “The referee will often ask the employee to draft a reference for edit and sign-off.”
Generally, business schools require applicants to write a 500-word essay explaining why they have chosen to apply to a school. In addition, many schools ask for references and recommendations letters.
Barniville says it’s easy for application committees to spot ghostwritten essays and letters—particularly when the “form, style, grammatical flow and paragraph structure are similar across two references.”
Essay Writing Companies
There are a number of companies that ghostwrite MBA essays. Leeds-based Essay Writer, according to Financial Times, claims to be the UK’s largest online provider of custom essays.
“Since our establishment in 2001, Essay Writer has continually delivering quality essay writing services for our customers,” their website reads. “Our company immensely takes pride for being the original and premier academic essay writing provider.”
Essay writer charges £183 (roughly $248 USD) for a 1,000-word master’s level essay. The essay can be delivered in seven days.
David Burton is the general manager of Essay Writer. Burton tells Financial Times that the majority of Essay Writer’s client base are international applicants who struggle with limited application language skills.
“Often, they do not want us to write a whole piece but want help getting into a piece or feedback on how to enhance it,” Burton says.
Consequences of Ghostwritten Applications
Scott Shrum is secretary of the board at AIGAC. Shrum tells Financial Times that ghostwritten applications aren’t just unethical, but they don’t pay off down the road.
“If applicants are interviewed and their English is difficult [but their application] essays were perfect, the admissions team will see it immediately,” Shrum says.
A number of schools already have tough consequences if an applicant is caught with a ghostwritten application. David Asch is the quality services director for the accreditation body EFMD. Asch tells Financial Times that a school will automatically reject an applicant if their application is found to be ghostwritten.
“Most university regulations say that the applications process must be honest, so if you mislead you can be sent away,” he says.
Solutions to Combat Ghostwritten Applications
At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the SDA Bocconi School of Management, more creative solutions are being used to tackle ghostwritten applications. Both schools now require video essays asking applicants to answer a series of questions on camera within days of submitting a written application.
According to Kellogg’s website, “the Video Essay is one component of the application and provides you with an additional opportunity to demonstrate what you will bring to our vibrant Kellogg community – in an interactive way.” Kellogg states that the video essay serves as additional information to an application. “It is the last thing we review when reading an application. It gives us a sense of your personality and allows us to get to know you in a more personal way than we can through your essays.”
In addition, many universities have employed verification services, such a Re Vera, to conduct applicant background checks.
Susan Cera is director of Stratus Admissions Counseling. She tells Financial Times that admissions committees tend to cross-check written essays with GMAT verbal subscores. If a well-written essay does not match a GMAT verbal score, it raises a red flag.
“Admissions committees reach out to applicants with quick and easy questions via email and look at the writing in the email response to see if it matches what is in the essays,” Cera says.
Overall, it seems admissions committees have a zero tolerance for ghostwritten applications.
“We recently heard of a top MBA program rescinding an offer the month before the program was going to start,” Cera tells Financial Times.