There is one counselor for every 500 students in U.S. public schools.

Being the first in his family to graduate from high school, Paris Wallace said he sympathizes with teenagers who find themselves alone in the circuitous college application process, and he hopes a new online service called the Essay Exchange can help those students get an acceptance letter this spring.

The Essay Exchange, launched last August, has a repository of about 700 essays written by current students and college graduates who shared their successful written works for $2 apiece.

For between $2 and $5, a prospective student can scroll through the essays and get a feel for the structure and subject matter that helped get another student into a college or university.

The Essay Exchange, Wallace said, isn’t for students whose parents can afford pricey SAT preparation courses or counselors who tell students which classes to take throughout high school. The site was created to help students “compete on a level playing field” with their more affluent counterparts.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into, so I was just kind of flailing,” said Wallace, who applied to 17 schools after he finished high school in 2000. “My college search was very much self directed. … I didn’t have any idea what a good college application looked like.”

There’s a growing market for any service that promises help for students navigating the application process. There is only about one counselor for every 500 public high school students in the U.S., according to the American School Counselor Association.

In states like Minnesota, California, and Arizona, that ratio reaches about one counselor per 800 students.

Wallace and web site co-founder Rory O’Connor—both graduates of Amherst College in in Massachusetts—took several steps to ensure educators don’t label the Essay Exchange a cheat site, such as CollegePaper.org, an online service that sells completed essays and features the tagline, “Intelligence made easy.”


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