In the quest to receive an offer of admission from one of the nation’s elite colleges, some students rack up bills paying for high-price counselors to aid them in writing the perfect essay, while others feel left behind.  One new website, The Essay Exchange, hopes to level the playing field.

Launched in August 2010 by co-creators and founders Aaron Michel, Rory O’Connor and Paris Wallace, the site allows high school students to peruse the essays of hundreds of college students after paying a small fee. High school students pay $10 for each essay they view or $20 for all of the essays submitted by one college student.

The site advertises application essays for 25 of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including all members of the Ivy League, Georgetown University, Duke University and the University of Virginia.

The founders of The Essay Exchange believe the website represents a more democratic, equal-opportunity approach to the college process. Some critics believe that high school students from wealthy families have an advantage during the application process because they can afford to pay for expensive test preparatory programs and college guides. By offering a less expensive alternative to private counselors, The Essay Exchange hopes to make the process fairer.

“We think that if we can create a platform that could provide personalized guidance to applicants, for way cheaper than $3,700 [the average rate students pay for a private counselor], we can do a few things,” O’Connor said.

“We can build a pretty successful company, but also important to what we’re trying to do is we can help a lot of applicants, people that wouldn’t normally have to chance to get help with their application.”

The founders also emphasized the increased transparency The Essay Exchange can provide to the college application essay process.

“Everyone knows you need good grades in your classes and good standardized test scores to get into a good school. But on the application and essay side of things it’s not as clear [what admission offices look for],” O’Connor said. “Just from a transparency perspective, The Essay Exchange helps people learn what works.”

The Essay Exchange website has had approximately 20,000 site hits since its publication in August 2010 with about 800 college and high school student users. College students and recent graduates have uploaded over 750 essays to the site. Each contributor receives $2 every time his or her essay is read.

Yet not everyone in the college application game is a fan of the electronic resource. Margaret Lysy, an associate director of Georgetown’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said she finds the idea behind The Essay Exchange concerning.

“Georgetown’s admissions process is holistic and our required essays are an important piece of the puzzle in getting to know an applicant,” she wrote in an email.  “The best essays are truthful, reflective and do not try to fit a mold. Mining a website of successful essays will not help a student find his/her unique voice and could lead an applicant down a road of temptation to plagiarize and misrepresent.”

She advised that applicants work with their school guidance counselors or teachers to review their college application essays, as opposed to using a website or a private consultant.

Alexandria San Jose (COL ’14) agreed that writing the college application essay should be a personal experience.

“It seemed to me when I was writing essays that there were so many of a certain type,” she said, “so I tried make mine not so similar to all of the ones they already get, and to write mine in my own voice. And I think that the website might not help people do that.”

She added that the personal attention given to each application allows those who work in admissions to note incongruities in applications, such as a disparity between one’s English grades and the quality of the essay they submit.

Some are concerned that the website might encourage plagiarism. The Georgetown Office of Admissions currently does not have a specific method in place to check applicant’s essays for plagiarism. O’Connor said that the company has reached out to over 100 college admissions departments and given them access to the website’s database should they wish to run the essays of their applicants through.

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