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Essay mills explained: What they are and why you should avoid them

By Sean Campbell• Last updated: Jun 26, 2023
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Essays and term papers can be stressful, especially for international students who sometimes doubt their ability to research in depth and write thousands of words in English, all to a tight deadline.  

That’s where essay mills come in, exploiting the fears of students and offering to do the hard work for them in exchange for money. 

But here’s the spoiler alert - you should absolutely avoid essay mills. All the time.

They don’t work for you. They don’t even work for the essay writers themselves, and you should see that as a big warning sign. But more on that below.

What are essay mills? 

Essay mills are pretty straightforward: You pay a company to write your essay for you. The company in turn offloads the essay to a (usually freelance) writer. A couple days or weeks later, and you get your completed essay in return. 

It’s not like a proofreading service, where someone can check your spelling, grammar and citations for a fee (though even those are controversial in universities). No, essay mills offer to write you an entire essay from scratch. 

In other words, they allow students to commit academic fraud. In fact, they exploit the worries and stresses of students and entice them into cheating. They’re considered deeply unethical, and put students themselves at risk of severe punishment if caught. 

Another business model of this kind are essay banks. Here, students can buy essays that have already been written. But there’s a much higher risk of getting caught for plagiarism, since who knows how many hundreds or thousands of people have used that very same essay. 

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Are essay mills legal or illegal?

The legality of essay mills depends on where you go to university, but the unethicality is clear no matter the location. Here’s a quick rundown of essay mills’ legal status in popular study abroad countries:  

Anti - essay mill legislation in the UK was passed in the House of Commons in February 2021, and will soon be made law. It’s not totally illegal yet, but it’s just a matter of time. 

The Republic of Ireland has also passed a number of bills to help tackle essay mills, while the practice is totally illegal in Australia and New Zealand. 

As for the USA and Canada, some US states have made them illegal, while Canada is under mounting pressure to follow suit.  

But the content and nuances of these laws changes from place to place. For example, in some US states it’s illegal for the student to use them, whereas the bills in Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and Australia are an attempt to criminalise essay mill companies themselves.

However, when we talk about legality, we’re of course talking about the law. But just because you might not cause a criminal offense by using essay mills, it’s still academic fraud and/or plagiarism. And getting caught for that can come with some dire consequences. 

Long story short, you really shouldn’t use them, regardless of their legality. 

Why you should avoid essay mills

1. If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense

The writer's pay is awful. I mean really bad. Trust me -- I write for a living, and I’ve seen hundreds of advertisements for essay mill jobs. Every time I see one I can’t believe how little money the writers make for so much time and effort.  

But does this affect you? Totally! Would you care about doing great work if, a) the money was terrible, and b) it wouldn’t take you anywhere in your career? I know I wouldn’t...

Let’s talk about cost and time to put this into some perspective. The price range of essay mills varies wildly depending on the writers they employ. You can pay anywhere between £10-£35 per page. Roll this out over a 10 page essay, and it could be anywhere between £100 and £350 for the final product. But you can also come across offers for much, much less money than this.

While that higher end of £350 might seem like a lot of money, trust me -- it’s really nothing for the amount of research, writing, citations, editing and proofreading required. 

If £100 per day is considered a “just fine but not great” sum of money in the UK, a writer would have to do all the work on your essay in 2.5 days just to make it worthwhile. And they’d have to do it without the subject knowledge that you have. 

2. The writers aren’t subject experts

Think about it: if they were a subject expert, would they really be working for a shady company that facilitates cheating? Not a chance. 

The main point is that these writers are badly underpaid and they’re not experts, therefore they’re putting very little effort or expertise into your essay. They just want to do it as quickly as possible before moving onto the next one. 

3. There’s no guarantee of a good grade

None. Since the writers are underpaid, lack expertise and rush their work, it’s a recipe for a bad final product. Multiple studies have shown that essay mills do mediocre work at best. 

The essay you pay hundreds of pounds for might get you a pass grade, but you could do much better yourself. 

4. The punishment is harsh

Every university has severe laws on plagiarism and academic fraud, which is the exact result of using an essay mill. At its most lenient, a student caught breaking rules on plagiarism will receive no grade at all for the work, but at worst they can be suspended or even expelled from your university.  

But the perfect “crime” goes unnoticed, right? Well, it’s unlikely in this case. 

5. Essay mills and detection services

Most universities use pretty innovative plagiarism detection software these days, which can pick up on any hint of fraudulent work. Thus, the risk of getting caught is very high. And by the time a student does get caught, they’ve already lost their hard earned cash to the essay mill company. 

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6. Essay mills don’t care about you

The company doesn’t care about you, and nor does the writer. That’s a pretty bad starting point for doing business! Once they’ve got their money and done their sub-standard work, they can move on to exploiting someone else’s fears. 

7. There’s a risk of scams 

Most essay mill sites demand a deposit of the final amount, or sometimes the entire fee up front. Either way, you won’t see your essay until you’ve paid them something. This makes it a prime opportunity for scam artists to take your money without giving anything in return. 

You see, it’s extremely easy for scam artists to launch a website advertising essays for sale, then just shut the operation down once they’ve made some quick cash without doing any work. 

Speaking of scams, here’s an article on some other international student scams to watch out for!

8. There’s a risk of bribery too

And then there’s the risk of bribery. Even if a student thinks they’re anonymous while dealing with essay mills, they’re not. There’s an email address, bank account name, even their IP address to worry about. 

So if the company or the writer decides that they want to blackmail or bribe a student by threatening to unveil the truth, they can. And they’ll always be able to.  

A final word on essay mills: Honest work is the best work

It sounds old fashioned, but there’s no replacement for smart, hard, honest work. Any student can write a great term paper or essay assignment on their own. All it takes is time, research, and some focus. 

Even if you’re under pressure or lack some confidence in your English ability, there are so many better ways to deal with it. Use a study abroad education counsellor, speak to your teachers and your friends. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction and help make that essay easier. 

As for essay mills? Forget about them. They’re exploitative, they serve no good purpose, and you can do a better job yourself!

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essay mills
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student scams
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Guest Author | Study Abroad Expert

Sean, a freelance writer, copywriter, and editor hailing from Ireland. He finds fulfillment in delving into the world of...Read More

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