MBA Admissions

For Sale: MBA Admissions Essays That Worked Once


Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Mass.

Photograph by Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Mass.

For years, applicants looking to read examples of admissions essays submitted to top business schools could buy books with such names as 101 Business School (MBA) Essays That Made a Difference or 65 Successful Harvard Business School Essays. The books promised readers an inside look at what admissions officers were looking for, along with elements of a successful business school essay.

The latest player is a new essay service and website called Wordprom.com, founded by MBA graduates Gili and Ori Elkin, who are looking to turn that old-fashioned model on its head—and raising the hackles of B-school admissions officers.

Rather than selling a book or offering help from admissions consultants with  essays, Wordprom.com lets applicants buy essays from people who were recently admitted to top business schools. Operating since August, the website has collected essays from more than 400 contributors, all either recent MBA graduates or current students. The website started selling the essays about two weeks ago, and “dozens of people” have downloaded them so far—about 90 percent of them from the U.S—says Wordprom Chief Executive Officer Gili Elkin, a 2008 MBA graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her husband, Ori Elkin, received his MBA in 2007 from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Potential business school applicants can search for essays by school, gender, graduation year, and admissions round. The essays, which list at $50, are currently being sold for an “introductory” price of $25 apiece, and the first 500 contributors are paid half of that sum every time someone downloads one of their essays, says CEO Elkin. She also works as an MBA admissions consultant for Aringo, a boutique essay-editing and admission-consulting firm in New York, and conducted some alumni admissions interviews after graduating from Stanford. Eventually, people will be able to buy packages of admissions essays at a price that will be comparable to the $250 hourly rate typically charged by MBA admissions consultants, she says.

“I thought it would be a way to make the admissions process accessible to everyone and everywhere,“ she said. “Yes, you can buy a book for $10 maybe, but I don’t believe the examples are comprehensive enough to serve everyone.”

Wordprom is not the first company to attempt this type of admissions essay downloading model. Last year a group of Harvard Business School MBA students tried to start a company called MBA Bee, featuring successful Harvard admissions essays, using seed money from the school for a team project, according to an article in Poets & Quants last March. The group’s website is not currently selling essays.

Admissions officers and deans at leading business schools in the U.S. and Europe are already bristling at Wordprom’s concept and business model. The website has emerged at a time when many business schools are cracking down on plagiarism in admissions essays—including some schools with essays listed on Wordprom.com. For example, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rejected 52 MBA applicants last year after the school discovered plagiarism in admissions essays by using Turnitin for Admissions, an anti-plagiarism database service that compares student essays to a wide collection of writings. Wordprom currently has six Anderson essays posted for sale.

“I am not a fan. I think it could potentially make candidates inauthentic,” said Rob Weiler, Anderson’s interim assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid.

Currently, the four most popular essays on the website are two from Harvard Business School, one from London Business School, and one from New York University’s Stern School of Business, according to  Wordprom’s homepage.

Harvard Business School Admissions Director Deirdre Leopold said in an e-mail that she would caution applicants against buying these essays.

“I understand the desire for prospective applicants to get a glimpse of what an HBS essay looks like. That being said, the buyer should really beware,” Leopold said. “Our essay questions are completely new this year, so historical essays may not be as helpful as candidates might wish.”

Sir Andrew Likierman, dean of London Business School, said during a recent visit to Bloomberg Businessweek that the idea of selling admissions essays was “prima facie unethical,” noting that a student in the school’s MBA program was recently dismissed from the program for plagiarizing an essay written for a class project. Wordprom is currently selling 51 essays used for admission into London Business School. “Plagiarism is an issue,” Likierman said. “The web makes it a heck of a lot easier to copy anything from anybody.”

Gili Elkin says the essays on her website are supposed to be used for “inspiration” purposes only. Users who download them must sign a “terms of use agreement” that prohibits users from plagiarizing, she says. In addition, the company will grant schools full access to Wordprom.com’s database of essays if they request it. If the company finds out a user has plagiarized from a Wordprom.com essay, “the user will be banned from the site and we will take any other action that is in our ability against the user,” Elkin says.

Carrie Marcinkevage, admissions director at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business, has become somewhat of a spokeswoman against admission-essay plagiarism in the business school community since 2010, when her school uncovered 29 cases of plagiarism for a required essay on the topic of principled leadership. “They are putting out a product that certainly makes it easier for people to plagiarize, but the responsibility for preventing it, detecting it, and acting on it is the school’s,” she says. “I would be interested to see what the company intends to do about people who plagiarize from essays. Right now, what they are saying is very vague and has no teeth.”

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Damast is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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