New College Admissions Tactic: Publish a Research Paper

ProPublica reports that parents are paying to have iffy studies published in iffy journals
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2023 5:00 PM CDT
New College Entry Trick: Be a Published Researcher
   (Getty / nirat)

It's a new twist on the old phrase "publish or perish." It's more like, publish or don't get into your college of choice. ProPublica reports on the latest questionable method being used to puff up college admissions: Parents are paying to get their kids' names on published research papers, and often both the papers and the journals in which they appear are a little iffy. The way it works is that a company connects a teen with an academic mentor—it's currently "one of the most lucrative side hustles for graduate students," one doctoral candidate explains—for a fee. They work together online, and the mentor helps the student come up with a research project that is published somewhere—sometimes in a not-so-discriminating journal affiliated with the company. (Some guarantee publication.) By ProPublica's count, at least 20 such "online research programs" have surfaced in recent years, "along with a bevy of journals that publish the work."

These days, "having a publication is kind of a given," says one high schooler whose published paper (actually a pre-print, meaning even less review) lauded Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwiches and marketing strategy. Is she worried that her less-than-rigorous subject will hurt her chances? Not so much. "It’s just important that there’s a link out there." As ProPublica notes, she's correct on that, because it's not realistic for college admissions officers to track down such links and verify their credibility. Some companies offering such services are better than others, with the story noting that Pioneer Academics "has maintained relatively rigorous standards." But the trend has resulted in "dubious papers whose main qualification seems to be that the authors’ parents are willing to pay, directly or indirectly, to have them published." Read the full story. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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