If you went to college and didn’t bullshit your way through a term paper you’re either:
(b) Doing it wrong.
Here are a few hall-of-famers that still somehow passed our professors’ sniff tests.
There is a person I used to know. A person who is somewhat famous in certain circles. A person with 76 thousand Twitter followers and a check mark. A person who paid me to write his/her essays in college. A person who I do not fault for offering me money. A person who I do not regret taking money from. A person I hope continues to succeed in his/her field. But a person who makes me impossibly jealous. Because he/she gets paid to write things. And I no longer do.
This wasn’t an essay, per se, but: I was basically barred from attending my first poetry workshop class in person because the professor was a stuck-up racist. So for my final project—a chapbook of the poems I’d written that semester, which required a short introduction about the theme and my process—I gave zero fucks and said exactly what I wanted about my work. He wasn’t going to be fair anyway, so who cared! (I got a C in the class)
Something secret I don’t intend to carry anymore: Satanic Verses is one of my favorite books, but I’ve never finished it. We had to pick a banned book from a list to do a report on, and the name jumped out at me. I had no idea what I was in for—it’s so long but also SO dense and intense and abstract. I LOVE Rushdie’s other works and I do think that text CHANGED me, but I dived in so deep, took a novel’s worth of notes and connection maps to try and keep it all together, and ultimately couldn’t bear to finish it. My tenth grade brain was not prepared. I wrote the essay as if I’d not only finished it, but understood every word flawlessly, and that teacher is still using it as an example for her classes.
When I studied abroad, I wrote a paper for a mythology class on how Disney’s different interpretation of Hercules (he’s more sensitive, trusting, humane, and compassionate in the 1997 animated film than he ever appears in Greek myth) was to demonstrate its millennial audience’s shift in masculinity. What’s that? You’ve stopped reading and your eyes have glazed over? Yeah, mine too. I love the animated Hercules, and this was me just straight up pulling at straws so I could write about it. I think I got an A?
…and then there was that time I was taking a class co-taught by English and Art professors. I got special permission to have it credited as an Art History class so I could finagle another extremely useful minor into my Communication degree; the only requirement was that I include art criticism in my final paper. Have you ever written about The Symbolism of Animals in Surrealist Art and Literature? Honestly, I may be the world’s foremost scholar on the subject at this point. It is achingly limited in scope, so much so that I had to scour the darkest corners of microfiche AND the dark web to find enough examples for my 10-page, double-spaced, 12 point Courier New paper (6½ pages normal formatting).
★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆, not recommended.
As a physics major, I didn’t end up writing a lot of papers in college. But in sophomore year, I took a physics course called “Intermediate Theoretical Methods.” (If that sounds boring to you, you’re not wrong.) These sorts of courses are famous for giving only one homework problem a week, but the problem takes the whole week to solve. So imagine my surprise when we were given the task of writing a paper about how to solve one such problem.
“Do you just… want us to write out on paper what’s running through our heads up when we do the math?” I asked, struggling vainly to figure out how to format this thing. Questions such as “Is there a thesis paragraph…? Do I need to present an argument…? Should I have a conclusion at the end of each paragraph…?” all ran through my head.
His non-response can be best summed up as “¯\_(ツ)_/¯,” which in a time before emojis was a feat indeed.
So here I was, someone who didn’t write a lot of papers, being assigned a paper in a discipline that doesn’t ordinarily write papers, being asked to write a paper on something without clear guidance on what or how to write. I remember hating the experience, and that I had a flaw in my math early on, which made all my “thinking out loud” useless and a perfect target for lots of red pen. I don’t remember how well I did on the damned thing, but the class must have had a curve since I got an A-.