Are you a college graduate who loves to write? If so, you may be drawn to the many, many websites that offer ‘academic writing’ opportunities.
You’ve written scads of school papers in the past, in your academic career. You might wonder if there’s an opportunity in getting paid for that skill.
There is — though it doesn’t pay a lot. From what I’ve seen on the bigger sites, $15-$20 a page for college essay writing is typical.
If you’re fast and want to put in a lot of hours, you might earn a few thou a month.
There’s only one catch: Academic writing is unethical.
I want to be super-clear on that. It’s not a gray area. It’s not sort of mildly naughty. It’s wrong.
As a writer who’s on a mission to bust scams and help writers find good pay, I should have tackled this topic long ago. But let’s get to it now.
First, let’s visit some essay sites and see how writers get sucked in.
The bait-and-switch of paid essay sites
It’s easy to see how writers get confused about academic writing. There are a ton of essay sites out there that make this seem like a legitimate freelance writing niche.
Some of these sites have creative ways of describing what you’re doing. They’ll tell you it’s ‘tutoring’ work, or that your submitted essays provide ‘inspiration’ for students’ writing.
But they’re lying.
Read closely. As you’ll see in these screenshots, essay sites like to dress it up. But in the end, we all know what’s happening. Students are having you write their papers.
Check out how one essay site pitches writers:
Doesn’t sound so bad, right? (And yes, I noticed all the grammar errors in that.)
Read a little closer, though, and a little farther down the page, you get this:
Ho! All of a sudden, we’re ‘getting paid to write essays FOR students.’ Not editing their paper. Not giving them a little help or ideas.
Sounds fishier now, right?
Finally, if I stay on one of these sites long enough, inevitably, a box like this will pop up:
As a mom who’s paid for college, let me say I didn’t take out student loans so that someone else could write my son’s papers.
There’s a reason schools have ethics codes — to prevent exactly this sort of thing.
Writers’ experiences on essay sites
The feedback I get from teachers is that papers written by pros are pretty easily detected. I was having a chat about this on my Facebook page recently, and got some choice feedback.
Professors can sniff out the difference between a student who’s perhaps had a little light editing help with a dissertation — which IS legit — and one who’s farmed out an essay, wholesale:
Writers sucked into these gigs also usually figure out they’re in an ethical swamp pretty quickly:
Yes, you can earn some money at this. But it’s dirty money.
And that’s not the only reason doing this type of writing hurts you, the writer, and doesn’t lay the groundwork for building a successful freelance writing business.
Why academic writing is a road to nowhere
Here are the three things you need to build a great freelance writing portfolio and begin commanding professional rates:
- Portfolio samples
With academic writing, you get none of the above. You’re ghostwriting for someone who’s not going to give you a testimonial and risk getting themselves expelled.
Essay sites are never going to refer you a better client and cut themselves out of the deal.
Even if you could get permission to put ghosted essays in your portfolio — which would be unlikely — you can’t use these samples without outing yourself as a writer without scruples, who’s just in it for a quick buck, no matter who it hurts.
In other words, academic writing is a dead end. The only place it leads you is to getting more essay work from the same website you signed on with. If that site goes bust, have fun starting all over.
Meanwhile, the years are going by, and you’re stuck in a niche with a bad reputation.
The final problem? You’re spending your time doing academic writing — stiff, formal, footnote-filled writing that bears no resemblance to any of the good-paying types of writing in the rest of the marketplace. So you’re not even gaining helpful writing experience.
Stop the denial
Despite the obvious fact that ghosted essays get students expelled, I find academic writers often have a violent reaction to the suggestion that what they’re doing is unethical.
For instance, one writer recently blocked me on Twitter after I had the nerve to point out that academic writing is wrong. That means I can’t show you her original post, in which she blithely described how she writes essays for pay for students at levels from undergrad to PhD.
But here’s my reply:
If you’re a writer hoping to get some respect for all your hard work ghosting essays, I’m sorry to disappoint you. What you’re doing is wrong. Academic writing hurts your career, right along with the academic career of the students who pay you.
Ask yourself this: Do you really want your writing legacy to be: “At least I didn’t get caught?” Or are you here to light up the world with your writing talent? I’m betting it’s really the latter.
If you’ve been caught up in the academic writing treadmill, there’s no time like the present to leave this ethical swamp behind, and move into doing more legitimate gigs — articles, case studies, Web content. That’s how you end up finding better clients and earning more.
Ever done academic writing for pay? Share your experience in the comments.