Campus Exposure: The College Cost of Fake Grades


John earns money doing other students homework online.

It’s a Friday night in Cleveland.

Despite some professors’ best efforts, most students are already putting away their work and getting ready for a night out. Cleveland may be a small college town with few bars, but there’s always something to do to take students minds off of homework and studying for a few hours. 

While most students are busy or making plans to be busy later that night, “John” is just getting started with his real job. 

It has been a busy week for John, full of classes, campus activities, homework, studying and working out, on top of seeing his girlfriend. An average itinerary for an average week. 

But John gets his real work done on the weekends. 

As the dorms surrounding John’s begin to empty, John gets his laptop out and gets to work. 

John shows me his computer screen – his email inbox illuminates his computer screen It is full of subject lines reading:

            ENG. 405 essay 

            MATH 103 Homework on Hawks

            CHEM LAB PAPER DUE 

            Romeo and Juliet Essay 800 words

            Athletic Training quiz Online

            Book Review ENG. 331

Any unsuspecting onlooker may assume John is one of many college students interested in upper level college classes. 

Actually, John is one of only a few college students who is mainly interested in how much money upper level college students will pay him to do their homework. 

John switches tabs on his laptop to his PayPal account – the anonymous online payment system through which his customers compensate him for his work – $785.00 in bright lettering flashes  across the room. 

“This is just since the start of this semester,” John says. “I already spent what I earned last semester.”

John then switches tabs once again to his spreadsheet where he keeps track of all his business:

            Work: R&J Essay

            Due: Monday 17th

            Price: $40

            To Do: Close analysis of Act 3 PLUS quotes from play. (A)

He explains how he keeps all his orders meticulously organized so as to never miss an assignment. That’s very important to John, as he is proud of the fact that in his 18-month stint as ghost essay writer, he has never missed a due date.

As the clock nears midnight, John has completed three essays for three separate students in entry level English classes, his expertise. 

He has some very important rules.

The most important rule is, he stresses, anonymity. He never meets any of his customers face to face, and because of PayPal and email, he never has to. 

The second rule is no new customers. John explains that he started his business working for close friends only. When his services proved extremely popular, he began expanding based on word of mouth only. 

In many ways, John’s hustle feels like a legitimate business. He has accounts, records, and receipts of all of his transactions. He uses these to keep his third rule; never write the same paper twice. 

In a small college like ours, he explains, many teachers will assign the same paper, project or assignment semester after semester, year after year. John makes sure to avoid these kinds of tasks. 

“It’s an easy way for me to get caught”, he explains. “I would be turning myself in by plagiarizing myself.”

After a long night spent writing other students’ assignments, John finally starts to finish up.

As he finishes, he moves on to his golden rule: Payment. He sends a quick picture as “proof” that the essay has been written and then requests his online payment from the student. 

Once that money has hit his account he sends over the full version via e-mail (non-DSU domain, obviously) and the process is complete. 

On to the next.