High school seniors seeking help with their college applications now can find it online from among dozens of internet companies. But critics say receiving such assistance amounts to cheating.

For about $80, a student can get a company such as With Honors Academic Editing Services, an internet company based in New York, to edit his or her college essay.

Of the several companies offering this service, With Honors is unique in that all 50 of its editors graduated from Harvard University with honors. But some believe companies like With Honors aren’t needed–or even honest.

“It’s unnecessary and, depending on the company, I would consider it unethical,” said Robin Engel, admissions director for Mercyhurst College of Erie, Pa.

Mercyhurst doesn’t require essays but does “highly recommend” them. About 85 percent of Mercyhurst applicants include a college essay, Engel said.

This is the busiest time of year for the college admissions process. Most college applications are due this month, with many students hearing by February where they have been accepted.

“We’re interested in a student’s ability to write an essay, not a professional company’s ability to edit,” Engel said.

But Austin Brentley, the 25-year-old co-founder of With Honors, said what his company offers students is constructive editing. The editors don’t write essays for students–or even rewrite them.

Instead, he said, editors fix grammatical mistakes, reorganize as needed, and offer suggestions about what is missing from an essay. What they’re offering are services college-prep high school students take for granted, he said.

“Some kids don’t have access to resources like college guidance counselors,” he said. “Why should they not receive the same level of advice that those kids get? A second opinion is a second opinion, no matter where it comes from.”

Brentley said the fee is nominal if it means a valuable scholarship or admission to a top-choice college.

Mercyhurst does demand college essays from students seeking academic scholarships, Engel said.

Jessi Ray and Jeff Ernst, both seniors at Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Pa., have gotten plenty of second opinions on their college essays.

But they didn’t pay for any of them.

Ernst, who submitted applications to colleges such as Westminster, Thiel, and Washington and Jefferson, wrote about his three-week absence from football season during his junior year after an appendectomy.

Ray, in the school’s Junior ROTC program, wrote about why she wanted a military career. She talked about whether leaders are born or developed for applications to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

Ernst said he’s shown his essay to friends and also had it checked by a computer writing software program. Ray said her English teacher, parents, and Junior ROTC instructor read her essay.

Both said they wouldn’t pay a company to look over their work.

“I’d rather have a teacher’s input or a friend’s input,” Ernst said.

“The essay gives them an impression of who I am,” Ray said. Paying for an edit of it “takes away a lot of your personality. … It’s not your work.”

But Brentley said his company offers critiques and edits, not rewrites.

“It’s still their work,” he said. “We just make it better. Our job is to get them into the best school possible.”


With Honors Academic Editing Services