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Disclaimer: I did not use these, but I have acquaintances who did. I'm asking from the perspective of an international student.

These 'PhD/ MS Consultants' do the following (in ascending order of sketchiness):

  • Assist in CV/ Resume/ Visa Interviews
  • Provide a list of universities to apply to based on your CV strength
  • Write your SOP for you

My question is: Can admissions committees tell? Some people who used these got into pretty good universities (Ivy League), which seems rather weird.

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If consultants are honest and do their job well, I doubt that the reader of an application could tell. I also have no issue with using consultants. People who are unsure of how to proceed with an application seek advice many places. Some seek it here, actually.

An honest consultant will work with a candidate to develop an application. Saying that they "write" the SOP is a bit incorrect if the ideas in it come from the candidate. This might be especially true for non native language speakers applying outside their own countries. But the honest consultant will work closely with the candidate, not just put their own ideas to paper.

But a dishonest consultant would be more likely to provide "boiler plate" information, not really related to the candidate. Those might be easier to detect, but only if a given committee saw previous applications that were similar.

But for a lot of candidates who get in to the ivy league, their own parents may be good consultants who do all of what you suggest. Of course, the recent news also suggests a few are willing to pay bribes as well.

I think that writing the SoP, if done properly, is fine. But if a "writing sample" is requested from the candidate, that person should be the one to write it. But even there, seeking advice on what to say and how to say it is probably pretty common.

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    I disagree strongly: I believe it is completely inappropriate to have someone else write your statement of purpose for you, just as it would be inappropriate to have someone else write an essay for a course. It is expected to be your own work. Some universities have explicit policies: Cornell: "Cornell University expects all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credentials services, or other paid professional assistance." – Nate Eldredge Dec 21 '19 at 22:25
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    @NateEldredge, if there are explicit policies they should be followed, of course. But not everyone has the same advantages. But detecting it is still pretty hard. Should an ALS sufferer (Stephen Hawking) type his own applications? – Buffy Dec 21 '19 at 22:48
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    I said write, not type. In my view, the applicant should compose the work themselves (deciding what is written). Others may give feedback and advice within reason, but it should be ultimately the applicant's own work. I believe this should be followed regardless of whether it is explicitly stated. I would expect universities to enforce it and punish violations under general academic honesty rules, again whether or not there is an explicit policy. Of course there is no problem with having someone else type the words that the applicant has composed. – Nate Eldredge Dec 21 '19 at 23:40
  • If someone cannot compose a personal statement on their own I'd very much be concerned about their ability to complete a graduate program. – Bryan Krause Dec 21 '19 at 23:54
  • @BrianKrause If they need someone to do the physical writing for them due to a disability, refusing them on that account could very well see your institution the subject of an anti-discrimination lawsuit. – nick012000 Dec 22 '19 at 0:42

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