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Grads Form Start-Up To Edit Essays

Recent alums charge top dollar to aid applicants

By James S. Davis, Contributing Writer

Leaping into the already packed college admissions industry, a group of Harvard graduates announced Monday the launching of a new college essay consultation service.

Citing “the power of the essay” to make or break a college application, With Honors, LLC, offers customers the editing services of 50 former students who graduated from Harvard College between 1998 and 2003-—with honors, aptly enough. In addition to utilizing their Harvard connection, the company’s founders aim to get a leg up on their competitors by assigning two editors rather than one to review each essay.

According to co-founder Austin Brentley ’00, With Honors entered the jungle of college applications because “the admissions rate at top colleges is declining, so there is definitely a need for added assistance.”

Prices for With Honor’s essay editing can run high, to as much as $270 for an essay of over 3,000 words. But today more than ever parents and students may be willing to pay such fees in order to gain any advantage in the college admissions derby. Applications to Harvard for the Class of 2007 rose yet again to 20,918, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the last decade, according to the Harvard Gazette. Other top colleges have seen a similar trend.

Businesses catering to high school students with college plans have flowered as a result of this explosion in interest. The market for standardized test preparation is saturated by such widely-known names as The Princeton Review and Kaplan. The Atlantic Monthly recently released its own list of top colleges, in the mold of—if also critical of—the famous ranking of U.S. News and World Report.

Even in the relatively narrow field of essay editing, With Honors has dozens of competitors. Some, such as EssayEdge, even claim to have “Harvard-educated editors,” echoing With Honors’ selling point.

With Honors bases a large part of its appeal on the qualifications of its editors. According to the website, the company “test[s] each editor to make sure he or she meets our high standards.”

Each editor must also have graduated with honors from Harvard. “We wanted to make it a little bit better by adding that extra stipulation,” Brentley said.

The additional distinction that a “with honors” degree from Harvard confers, however, is a bit unclear these days.

Much of the recent controversy over grade inflation has centered on the College’s high rate of graduation with honors. Roughly 91 percent of the Class of 2003 earned an honors diploma. In response to similar numbers in recent years, the Faculty has voted to cap the number of honors diplomas granted to 60 percent of the class, beginning in 2005.

With Honors also does its best to capitalize on the prestige of Harvard University, using the image of the Dunster House cupola on its website and employing a logo featuring an oddly familiar crimson ‘H.’

The company asserts, however, that its use of Harvard images and motifs is perfectly legitimate.

“We made sure everything was kosher,” Brentley said.

He said they submitted the logo and the website to Harvard’s Office for Trademark and Technology Licensing (OTTL).

But OTTL told a slightly different story.

“I have chatted with Austin [Brentley] but have not yet determined whether the website infringes on Harvard’s intellectual property,” OTTL Trademark Program Director Rick Calixto said.

According to Calixto, “you cannot make it appear as though Harvard endorses you or is affiliated with you, and you cannot use Harvard’s trademarks.”

Will With Honors help aspiring students get into Harvard? Harvard officials declined comment.

But regarding college application essay editing services, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73 adjured students to use their judgment but stressed the importance of academic honesty.

“Our expectation of honesty and integrity concerning the candidate himself or herself is undiminished,” she said.

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