StudySoup creates platform for students to sell class notes


Pamela Segall, Staff Reporter

Whether because of a missed lecture, zoning out in class or poorly taken notes, many students find themselves without adequate study materials. For those missing class material, an alternative solution, note-sharing sites, raises a host of new questions. 

A new website called StudySoup pays students, whom they refer to as “elite notetakers” to post their weekly notes and exam study guide and then makes these resources available for purchase. 

According to Sieva Kozinsky, CEO and co-creator of StudySoup, the site was born when he, a good student but poor notetaker, discovered that his co-founder, Jeff Silverman, an excellent notetaker, could make upwards of $500 per exam by selling his notes and study guides. The goal, according to Kozinsky, is to even the playing field and to raise the bar in terms of study materials available to students.   

On StudySoup, any student can upload their notes and study guides as a regular notetaker and receive a commission for each sale. Elite notetakers are selected by StudySoup and receive a base payment in addition to the regular commission. 

Any student can apply to be an elite notetaker, begging the question: what makes these notetakers so elite? 

Elite notetakers must go through an interview and training before they can begin posting their notes and are required to post weekly notes and exam study guides, while regular notetakers simply post their notes whenever they like, and undergo no training. 

There is no minimum GPA to become a notetaker. Students are asked to include their GPA when applying to be a notetaker, but are not required to provide this information; however, StudySoup does encourage students to indicate their GPA to be more marketable on the site. 

Some of the students StudySoup employs are freshmen who do not yet have a college GPA. 

“They asked for my high school GPA when I applied since I obviously don’t have a college one yet,” freshman Danielle Krefft said. 

Some students believe high school success do not necessarily translate to success in a college environment. 

“I’m suspect about the recruiting of first-year students, of freshmen,” said Molly Travis, associate dean and head of the Tulane Honor Board. “How can they be ‘elite’ necessarily? A lot of students who were aces in high school don’t do particularly well at a competitive university.”

StudySoup does not post the age of a notetaker, stating only their name and GPA, if provided, on the top corner of the page. In this format, freshman notetakers like Krefft are listed with their username, Tulane University, and a 4.0 GPA. 

The chief element that compels students to post their notes is the pay, but while the site claims that elite notetakers can make $300-$500 per course, this may not be the typical case.

StudySoup requires that a student sign up for a plan with them to access any notes, and there is no feature for a one-time purchase. 

The minimum that can be paid is $25 for one month’s use. Elite notetakers make $4 per set of notes purchased and $8 per study guide, plus the agreed-upon base pay for that course, which is given each time there is an exam. 

With the base pay of $60 that Krefft receives for each of the classes where she is a notetaker, assuming three tests per class, that adds up to $180 per course. 

Though the site recommends that notetakers post notes for one to three classes, Kozinsky encourages note takers to take notes for two classes per semester.

“This way they can really focus and put their energy into those two classes,” Kozinsky said. “They will obviously make more money than if they only take notes for one class, and I think three classes can get overwhelming.”

While there is also no guarantee that anyone will purchase the notes or study guides, taking on more than one class guarantees a higher base pay.  

To those who would like to make money using a class in which they excel, Travis suggests becoming a tutor. 

“Tell the faculty member whose course you were in the year before that you want to be a tutor,” Travis said. “Our students do, and always have served as legitimate above-the-board tutors … That’s different, and that answers those questions for high-achieving students who want to make money. If you want to do that, do it the traditional way.” 

While those who share their notes and make money benefit from the site and see its merits, other students were reluctant to try out the site. 

“Why would I pay to buy someone else’s notes when I can go to class and take better ones myself?” sophomore Emily Pellegrini said. 

And herein, for Travis and other faculty members, lie their greatest concerns: the soliciting of other students to buy the notes and the incentive or ability to skip class free of consequence.

“We cannot and I would never want to even try to police everything that students do,” Travis said. “But what we can and ought to be able to do is keep them from soliciting using Blackboard, Canvas, soliciting their fellow students actively. I think that’s wrong. I’m very uneasy about that.”

Professors of smaller classes often take daily attendance and factor this into students’ grades, but in larger lecture classes this is rarely possible. Many professors also worry that the sharing of information will lead to a decrease in seeing students’ original ideas and will promote absenteeism.

This, however, is not Kozinsky’s intent. “The goal [of StudySoup] is really to find the person who is the best in the class, and share their notes to give [students] the best learning opportunity. That’s how we do it, that’s why we do it. Unfortunately, there has to be a business model behind it.”

Five students of the students who have reviewed and downloaded Krefft’s were asked for their comment over email, none of which responded.

StudySoup does not directly violate Tulane’s honor code but it does present a new gray area for the Honor Board as well as raising other concerns. 

The notes a student posts are not a direct violation of the honor code, but if another student purchases and chooses to abuse these notes, the student who posted the notes could unwittingly be involved in a violation.

While others might find this reception concerning, Kozinsky is happy to be called controversial.

“That means that we are challenging the norm,” Kozinsky said. “People are talking about us … and we’re raising the bar.”

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