I have several friends, all graduate students at decent universities, who are providing paid graduate school application guidance services, where they help the future graduate applicants stand better chances to get admitted.

Originally, I regarded this as a 100% OK behavior, until I realize that they are very sneaky about their services, as if the services are something underhand. Some of them even provide the services anonymously.

My guess is that they may leak some information obtained from the admission committee to their clients. However, I feel that they can neither obtain any critical admission information nor make admission decisions, since after all, they are just graduate students. But why are they hiding?

Are such services unethical? If so, how will the school deal with such cases?

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    As you say, there is nothing unethical about charging for advice, but it does seem unlikely that advice from a grad student would be valuable enough for anyone to pay for it, so I also would tend to wonder if something shady is going on. My first guess was that they are ghostwriting application essays. Jul 22 '14 at 4:22
  • 5
    Like you, I wouldn't expect a grad student to have access to any confidential information from the admissions committee. Perhaps that is what they're hiding from their clients. After all a grad student is about the second least-qualified person to give advice on graduate admissions: their sole qualification is that they once wrote an application which one admissions committee thought was pretty good. Jul 22 '14 at 8:27

I think you have largely hit the nail on the head in your own post. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with charging for valuable experiential information. In fact, this really could be an extension to charging for 'edits' or tutoring. Really if they are providing non-sensitive information regarding the procedures and what the admissions panel look for - then I don't see any major ethical quandaries.

However, you highlight a key point. They could be leaking information explicitly obtained from the panel (that I assume they would have delivered in confidence). If this is the case, then I imagine it should be intuitive what the schools reaction would be. The reason this is unethical (from my POV) is that they are no longer sharing experiential information, but providing them with explicitly 'leaked' outcomes that would give a disproportionate advantage.

By analogy with the edit example. It would be fine for a tutor to edit and provide feedback on a students work. To the majority of people, I think they are aware this occurs and there are no ethical problems. In fact, a tutor might go so far as to show them example assignments. In fact, my department actively encourages students and postgrads to seek and help out students, respectively. However, if the tutor provided the marking key (obtained from another postgrad running the unit) and gave this to the student - that is blatantly unethical.

  • 2
    Another reason for being sneaky about it is that they might not be paying taxes on it. Just a thought.
    – Orion
    Jul 22 '14 at 4:45
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    Or if they are international students, the visa may not allow it.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 22 '14 at 12:39

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