The college admissions process is undergoing a rapid transformation as artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including ChatGPT, are becoming readily available to students. With the prospect of essays that can be produced with the push of a button, many students may be thinking that college applications will be a breeze.
Unfortunately, the reality is that AI technology is not there yet, so it’s important for families of prospective applicants to understand how and where this technology can be used to develop authentic and strategic college essays.
The Role of AI and ChatGPT in College Admissions
From the standpoint of colleges, AI offers the possibility of streamlining the admissions process and providing additional support for admissions officers (AOs). Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis University, states: “Artificial intelligence is an extraordinary tool that can help us be much more efficient and much more effective in reaching students and helping them through the admissions process.” Some of the ways that AI can support admissions include providing summaries of applicants’ essays, powering chatbots to provide personalized support throughout the application process, and summarizing interviews.
While it’s still uncertain exactly what impact AI will have in the 2023–24 application season, one thing remains true: students must write essays that are authentic to connect with their human readers. Jenny Rickard, CEO of the Common App, asserts that “Human intervention still needs to be a part of the process,” not just looking at data points but how those data points connect and mean something about a person.
The Dangers of Using ChatGPT for College Application Essays
Colleges use application essays to help assess student fit. Writing these essays is a challenge because they require students to deeply reflect about their experiences, identify their core values, prove they possess leadership, and highlight their community impact. As the University of California states, “[it’s] about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.”
It’s no wonder that from the student perspective, tools like ChatGPT can represent a dangerous temptation. It functions by producing the statistically most likely responses to the keywords entered into its interface. This statistical average may be better than the text generated by the average high school writer, but it’s not exceptional enough for the most competitive colleges.
The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights the potential pitfalls of AI-written essays: “The risk with AI-generated essays is that they may not only lack the student’s unique voice but also obscure the real person behind the application. Admissions officers want to hear from the student, not a machine.”
The results are often bland, lifeless, albeit grammatically correct, essays. In the end, the final decision about an application is still being made by humans, and colleges want students to be human in their essays so their readers can see their humanity.
When used well, AI tools like ChatGPT can help students generate new ideas and expand how they think about their essays. However, when used poorly, students risk not only producing banal essays but also having their essays flagged by AI detectors and potentially being blacklisted by many colleges. These tools can be used ethically as an aid to the writing process, but students must first learn how to do so in order to maintain the integrity of the college application process.
FLEX College Prep: Supporting Students in their College Application Journey
Colleges are already well aware that AI is being used by students, and they may respond to these new challenges by requiring more supplemental essays to learn more about the student, asking students to write on demand, or requiring interviews or video statements. As this technology progresses, FLEX strongly encourages students to consider the following:
- ChatGPT and similar technologies are here to stay whether we like them or not. When used responsibly, they can be powerful tools that help us in a variety of ways.
- Students should never directly use these technologies for any academic purpose, including college admissions essays. When using AI Chatbots to aid in writing, please keep in mind that you should never just copy and paste.
- Students should think of these technologies as a creative tool that can be used to research topics, help brainstorm ideas, and formulate new potential directions. For example, ChatGPT can help you have a conversation with your favorite author about writing style or give you analysis on different essay structures.
- ChatGPT and Bard have both been found to have a variable level of accuracy and cannot always be relied upon.
- Admissions offices are likely to begin introducing requirements for sample graded papers and more short supplemental essay requirements. This is likely to include updated Honor Statements where students will need to attest to whether or not they have used any AI technologies in their applications.
- ChatGPT is only the beginning of AI chatbots, and as university policies change to address them, it’s important that you stay aware of the changes and pay close attention to new academic requirements.
In the ever-changing admissions landscape, FLEX’s experienced team of admissions consultants and writing coaches will work with students to develop compelling and unique college application materials that showcase their individuality, strengths, and aspirations, ensuring they stand out in the competitive admissions environment. FLEX College Prep is here to help students navigate this brave new world of AI and ChatGPT in college admissions.
To learn more about our college admissions programs including FLEX ACE (Application & College Essay), visit our Admission Consulting page.
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Students need to stand out in the competitive admissions landscape. FLEX College Prep is a team of the best strategists in the industry and takes a holistic approach to ensure students use their pre-college years in intentional, enriching, and personally satisfying ways. Since 2001, we’ve worked with families to help students unlock their potential and find happiness, meaning, and success in college and beyond.