Inside the lives of people writing essays for US students
Inside the lives of people writing essays for US students

After a month of training, Ms. Mbugua began producing essays about everything from whether humans should colonize space (“it is not worth the struggle,” she wrote) to euthanasia (it amounts to taking “the place of God,” she wrote). During her best month, she earned $320, more money than she had ever made in her life. The New York Times is identifying Ms. Mbugua by only part of her name because she feared that the attention would prevent her from getting future work.

[snip]

Ms. Mbugua, the Kenyan university student, worked for as little as $4 a page. She said she began carrying a notebook, jotting down vocabulary words she encountered in movies and novels to make her essays more valuable.

Ms. Mbugua, 25, lost her mother to diabetes in 2001, when she was in the second grade. She vowed to excel in school so that she would one day be able to support her younger brother and sister.

A government loan and aunts and uncles helped her pay for college. But she also worked, landing in an office of 10 writers completing other people’s assignments, including those of American students. The boss stayed up all night, bidding for work on several sites, and then farmed it out in the morning.

“Any job that is difficult, they’re like, ‘Give it to Mary,’” she said.

There were low points. During summer break, work slowed to a trickle. Once, she agonized so much over an American history paper about how the Great Depression ended that she rejected the job at the last minute, and had to pay an $18 fine.

But Ms. Mbugua said she loved learning, and sometimes wished that she were the one enrolled in the American universities she was writing papers for. Once, when she was asked to write an admissions essay for a student in China who was applying to the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, she said she dreamed of what it would be like to go there herself.

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