The Essay Exchange Aims to Democratize Pricey College Admissions Advice

12/2/10Follow @xconomy

Application fees and standardized test prep courses aren’t the only big expenses when it comes to getting into college. For the tens of thousands of students who hire admissions counselors and coaches every year, the process of crafting the perfect essay to get into a top name school can also carry a hefty price tag, says Rory O’Connor. His Cambridge-based startup, The Essay Exchange, is out to give those without big budgets access to winning essay advice.

O’Connor, a 2009 graduate of Amherst College, first saw the lengths people were willing to go to get the perfect college admissions essay in one of his first gigs out of school, he says. He worked for an online admissions essay-editing site, translating MBA essays for non-English speaking students. “That was kind of an introduction to the amount of competition and the amount people are willing to spend on these sort of things to get into schools,” he says.

This past April he connected with fellow Amherst alum Paris Wallace (also a co-founder of Boston biotech Good Start Genetics) and Boston University alum Aaron Michel, and the group started working with developers on a Web-based database of essays that successfully got students accepted to top-ranked schools. The site first went up in August, and now houses about 350 essays from current college students.

O’Connor says enlisting students to supply their essays isn’t a tough sell. “They’ve gotten the message very quickly,” he says. “It’s a fairly simple proposition to them, now it’s just a matter of making it work.”

The startup is recruiting students at 10 schools (the eight Ivy League schools plus Stanford and MIT) to submit the essays that landed them a spot at their university. The Essay Exchange houses them in an online database that students currently applying to college can access. The first essay costs them $2, and additional essays cost them between $7.50 and $10, depending on the volume they buy. Applicants can also choose to purchase all of a particular contributor’s essay materials—including supplemental and optional essay questions— for $10.

The Essay Exchange passes a percentage of these fees back to … Next Page »

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  • James

    How is reading an old college application essay the same as receiving personalized counseling from a former college admissions officer?

    There’s a real disconnect here.

  • George

    You’re right, it is different. But it looks like personalized coaching costs thousands of dollars, and if for a few bucks you can see the results of that coaching, there’s certainly value there.