Bijan Saniee
Illustration by April Gau, Staff Illustrator

As I sat down in the Theater and Dance lecture hall on campus preparing to tune in to my first lecture of the quarter, an incident reminded me of a pyramid scheme called Vemma that corrupted some classmates of mine back in high school; within one day of joining the company, some of my peers had converted their entire personalities and social media presences into Vemma advertisements, hoping to convince fellow students to join. 

Standing at the front of the hall was a representative for a company named College Works Painting. He had asked the professor if he could make a quick announcement to the students before the start of lecture. The professor, just as clueless as we students were with regard to the announcement, allowed the representative to speak.

What followed were a few empty sentences about an internship and “great” opportunities. The vagueness of the pitch, coupled with the fact that it was being advertised to over 100 totally random students, made it apparent to me, having heard the same mumbo jumbo from Vemma four years ago, that the “internship” in question was a sham.

Just this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to take action against Vemma, a self-described “privately held multi-level marketing company,” after the commission decided that the company’s business practices were those of an illegal pyramid scheme. While the company’s tactics were unsustainable, as are those in all traditional pyramid schemes, it still made away with over $200 million in each of the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years and operated without great legal trouble for over a decade.

A pyramid scheme is an unsustainable business model which promises to pay employees for signing up others. Rather than producing some product or performing some service, companies which employ a pyramid scheme will make profits predominantly from the “joining fees” they receive from new employees.

To put their practices bluntly, pyramid schemes attempt to lure potential employees through a barrage of very generic, corporate-sounding statistics, hog-wash charts and graphs outlining potential earnings for newcomers, as well as the testimonies of other employees who laud the company and their job, all while actually aiming to take the joining fee from the pockets of the potential employees.

While College Works Painting is different from a pyramid scheme in the sense that it does not have a joining fee, it does operate on a multi-level-marketing strategy, as evidenced by a statement on the College Works website: “The more money an intern makes, the more money we make.”  What this means is that the College Works management profits from the cut it takes out of the work done by its interns. 

The company itself is essentially a door-to-door sales pitch job. Students who join the company work under a “student manager,” or a mentor, who essentially tells the intern how to run a door to door painting business.

The company specializes in painting homes using its student interns to pay for the supplies, paint and workers, while taking half of the money earned by that student and distributing it disproportionately to higher- and lower-end workers.

On the College Works Painting website, there is a chart with an estimated earning potential for student interns, with the lowest projected income, bracketed under a category called “Below Average Branch,” listed at $4900. The only issue here is that the chart makes no mention of number of hours worked, amount spent on supplies, etc. Despite their appearance, these estimated earnings say almost nothing at all to a prospective intern.

Scammers in all fields are those who you least expect. They approach you with a smile, make you feel cozy and comfortable and will proceed to take from you what they want without batting an eye. That said, it is completely up to each student to join College Works Painting, which continues to have a presence at UCSB and campuses all over the state; my only recommendation is that the student visits the website for a good laugh.


  1. Yeah this article is a joke, there are so many things inaccurate about what you are saying, you didn’t even do the program and you are writing an entire article about it. Clearly you have no idea about how business works or anything in real world does although you are talking about it like you do.

    I did the program as a freshman and had nothing but a positive experience.

    Yahoo, CNN, Princeton review all rate College works as a top internship program, and it has been featured on TV multiple times, and rated with an A+ by the Better Business Buraeu

    To students looking for information about the internship, look for a legitmate source, not this student who researched the program and then decided to write an entire article about its flaws.

    Just to take a look at some of the laughable things this author wrote –

    “”The company specializes in painting homes using its student interns to pay for the supplies, paint and workers, while taking half of the money earned by that student and distributing it disproportionately to higher- and lower-end workers.””

    No, the company takes half of the revenue to pay the costs of running the business, and no the students do not pay for supplies or workers, the revenue they generate does. Revenue – expenses = profit, most people know that. I made about 18,000 as a freshman doing nothing but honest work and providing customers and myself a great experience.

    Another assinine statement
    it does operate on a multi-level-marketing strategy, as evidenced by a statement on the College Works website: “The more money an intern makes, the more money we make.”

    That is how business works. If you start a company and work hard to create an organization, of course you make money off of the employees beneath you, you spent the 10-20 years laboring to create an organization and provide an opportunity for them. The company operates on somewhat of a franchise model, and in any franchise it works the same. If I opened up a mcdonalds, mcdonalds would receive a portion of my revenue, and the larger my restaurant the more money they would make.

    The problem with the internet is that anybody can write anything and seem credible. Know where your information comes from. This kid literally didn’t partake in the internship and is telling everyone how it is. If he partook in it he would have nothing to say

    I would like to get this taken down, College works internship impacted my life in a very positive way and other people I got to know through the program, it almost makes me mad seeing some uninformed student tell everyone how this is a scam. If student admin has any questions about how credible this organization is or some of the statements made please feel free to email me.

  2. People just don’t like to work hard and get mad when they suck at their job. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Even if I didn’t do as well as I did (I made around 13k), the experience alone is worth it.

  3. Upon getting lured into the College Works Painting idea, I made it past the first round of interviews to the reverse interviews. Then I had to really sit down and weigh my options. Everyone will l have there own opinion, but here are my insights.
    You have to weigh the options according to your own personal values. What I mean by this, is if you get involved with College Works Painting I believe many possible outcomes could happen.
    Of course you will develop personally and professionally, but you can do that in many other ways rather than just CWP(college works painting).
    Personally, after reading all the articles and reviews about CWP, it in essence requires a huge amount of commitment and determination and drive. What bothers me, is that they’re not clear about the time commitment. Statistically do the math. Fuel, labor cost, personal time spent learning (thats a personal judgement you have to make whether its worth it to you or not) compared to the amount of money you will earn and personal development. I do believe many college kids will grow from this experience, but for me the investment isn’t worth the time. I’ve gained many insights from other companies, Vemma, Pure Romance, ect… (Pyramid based companies). These companies require a huge learning process, and you’re then rewarded after a huge time investment(training). Again, everyone will learn and grow differently so for some this is a great option. Personally, I’d rather take my odds and attempt to start my own business utilizing other resources rather than pay a company overhead fees.
    Some other red flags caught my attention, why is this CWP company trying so hard to recruit people? Why do they have to convince people they’re not a scam? Why do people question this scheme? They throw a lot of enticing facts at you like the potential to make a lot of money and vacations. Ironic, look at those other pyramid companies that seem to good to be true. Let me invest 1500 hours into the whole process, starting from training to just before I go back to school only to make $12000 over the course of a summer… No thank you, that’s about $8 a hour. Again, whatever time you put into this company is what you’ll get out of it. Yes, it’ll develop and hone your skills, but I’ll do that starting my own company using other resources.
    Do your research… then use the information and weigh it against your own thoughts, follow your gut instinct.

  4. To put it in a real perspective, Iv been with college works for three years now. I worked my ass off and was one of the top interns in my division. (I made about 18k my freshmen year) and now that Iv been with the company for going on the third year, Iv met the CEO’s and a lot of the other executive people in the company. What I have learned is that a lot of the people that rag on the company are people that have never done it. Also, I witnessed kids quit mid summer for the last two summers not because of any other reason besides they didn’t want to work hard. Or they talked to their parents and they reccomended they get a “real job” on campus or being a waiter/waitress. It is a difficult internship that isn’t meant for people who lack work ethic or willing to step outside their comfort zone. But calling us a scam is like never showing up for class and then blaming the teacher because of bad grade. People like you that write false articles and ragging on our internship might lead to a student missing out on a great experience that might change their life.