What It Takes to Ghostwrite Ivy League Applications For a Living


What It Takes to Ghostwrite Ivy League Applications For a Living

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

After I graduated from degree college in 2017, I gave up plans for a higher education altogether, and with that, came the demise of my postgraduate parents’ dreams of having their very own postgraduate child. Instead they had to come to terms with the fact that the apple of their eye was about to make a living as a “freelance writer”.

Today, I make most of my money doing the very thing I tried so hard to avoid when I was fresh out of college. You see, I ghostwrite “statements of purpose” for skill-deprived, high-on-pride brats so they can enroll in elite-level courses from premier institutions, where creative leaders of the future undergo training and facilitation. What’s the difference between my clients and I? Only about hundreds of lakhs of rupees in our bank accounts, no biggie.

It all started when a friend of mine had to apply to a big shot MBA University in the UK, and realised that he had no idea how to write his own cover letter. As we were talking, I remembered the time three years ago I was almost stranded in Goa because there was no space on my train back to Delhi. Somehow, for the next two days, I squeezed myself into different seats on the general compartment, and made my way back home.

This story turned into my friend’s cover letter, as a way to make him seem like a risk-taking, stress-handling multitasker. Meanwhile, he probably has never had to book a train ticket in his life, because for him planes are bae and trains are nah. Of course, he had other things to offer, such as his family’s hard-earned money, and his immense bookish knowledge of finance management.

It all started when a friend of mine had to apply to a big shot MBA University in the UK, and realised that he had no idea how to write his own cover letter.

Still, days later, when his assessors applauded his “courageous spirit” on a Skype call, little did they know that his path was paved by someone else. Or maybe they did, and were praising his ability to be able to hire someone to write his application for him.

Eventually, it was this friend who suggested that I try making a career out of spoon-feeding life stories to future millionaires, who’d personally rather spend their time watching FRIENDS on an iPad than reading relevant texts on Kindles. They were only too happy to come to me to do their grunt work, because outsourcing college applications to coat-wearing Ivy League corporate consultants is both too expensive and lacks originality.

Being as informed about digital marketing as the average tiger is to the benefits of veganism, I relied largely on word-of-mouth to get my first few clients. A few months in, they were pouring in, hoping someone could inject some personality into their lives. By this point, I’ve written so many applications that I’m starting to think the whole model of academic excellence is broken, given that good scores rarely translate into decent interpersonal skills.

One of my clients, for whom I wrote a lengthy vision statement had literally nothing to bring to the table during our interview other than his love for Richard Branson and his hopes of being a multi-millionaire some day. That was it — his entire list of interests. I kept prodding him, asking him what he thought of Tim Ferriss (the budding Wolf of Silicon Valley had no clue who Tim Ferriss was), and what he would say his best skills were. All I got in response were generic buzzwords about him being an effective leader, great marketer, and the world’s greatest angel investor.

What he didn’t tell me was that he was also a spendthrift, a massive procrastinator and a man-child. He never spoke of the Audi he was gifted on his 24th birthday for him to play loud music and take weekend trips to Himachal. As a matter of fact, he also didn’t mention that his weekly pocket money roughly equalled the fee of the central university I studied in, or that he’d rather spend his time swiping through profiles on Tinder than LinkedIn.

Which isn’t to say that my clients wholly respect what I’m doing for them.

Once I told him what I would charge to ignore all of the above and write him a cover letter, he readily agreed, provided I highlight his supreme command over business ethics, innovative ideation and other useless jargon. I did my job well. Meanwhile, he must have been swilling wine in a dimly lit restaurant, or whatever else rich kids do. When he saw my final draft, even he could not believe how proud he was of himself.

On the other hand, I couldn’t believe that these clients were getting admitted into colleges with promises to “nurture visionaries”. Yeah, sure. The day these colleges realise that barely half their students write their own statements, and almost all my clients lack a clear “vision”, we may have to rethink this idea that we must rote-learn our way to the top. How is it that so many of my clients have the mental aptitude to clear a number of exams, but not enough practical life experiences to talk about themselves for a minute?

Which isn’t to say that my clients wholly respect what I’m doing for them. They’ll talk for hours about how they’ll soon drink coffee with Elon Musk, and then negotiate with me over five hundred rupees. In fact, one client went a step further and said she’ll pay me Rs 500 less than I asked her for because “I’m no J K Rowling”.

Eventually, I wrote her a statement of purpose for an MBA in sales and marketing, that focused specifically on her “persuasive nature”. And surprisingly, she found it very much in tune with her whole persona. It goes to show, you don’t have to be J K Rowling to write semi-fictional humblebrag about real characters.

I have meanwhile, all but given up on my dreams of studying abroad, and am perfectly willing to allow my clients to shine on my behalf. But please don’t tell my parents. Just last week they asked me if I was applying for further studies in the coming academic year, and I just laughed and changed the topic. If only they knew how many versions of me are currently studying in Ivy Leagues all over the world.