An essay mill is a type of ghostwriting service that completes academic papers for students in exchange for money. While there typically are no plagiarism issues involved with these services, they can operate in the gray area of academic dishonesty. There is often no outright illegal activity associated with the use of an essay mill, though a college or university may look on the behavior as academic fraud. Some institutions allow professors to employ a variety of methods to determine if a student has used an essay mill, and if the individual is found guilty he or she may be subjected to some form of discipline. Punishments may include course failure, revocation of academic honors, or expulsion.
Essay mills may offer pre-written papers on common topics or provide customized ghostwriting services. In either case, the essay mill typically licenses the paper to the student for limited use. Since the student has a license, the use of the paper is typically not considered plagiarism or even technically illegal. The license will usually only extend to one use of the essay, so any sharing or selling of a paper beyond that may constitute plagiarism or copyright infringement.
Some students may feel safe using these services since they are not technically illegal, though many academic institutions have policies against such behavior. If a college or university has an academic dishonesty policy, it may employ a range of different methods to ensure that students are in strict compliance. Some institutions grant professors the ability to use software that can detect signs of essay mill use, while others allow professors to perform impromptu oral testing. If a student can not convey the information contained in the essay in a coherent and thoughtful manner, that individual might face charges of academic fraud.
Academic dishonesty and fraud are often treated very seriously by colleges and universities. If a professor provides evidence that fraud has taken place, a student will typically be subject to investigation. A hearing may be held by a variety of administrative personnel, during which the student may be exonerated or deemed guilty. Punishments for incidences academic dishonesty such as the use of a ghostwriting service can vary, though the student will usually fail the class at a minimum. If the student has any academic honors or degrees, they may be revoked, and in some circumstances the student will even be expelled from the school.