fbpx Skip to main content

By Ethan Currie

“Can ChatGPT Write My College Essay?”

“Can AI Crack College Admissions?”

“The College Essay Is Dead.”

You’ve probably encountered some version of these attention-grabbing headlines in the months since OpenAI released the first public-facing version of their large-language-model chatbot, ChatGPT. Since last November, an enormous amount of (digital) ink has been spilt trying to forecast how this new technology will affect nearly all aspects of modern life, including college admissions. 

We’ve been reading blogs, reaching out to our college admissions contacts and hearing from admissions professionals at national conferences about this question, and one clear message has consistently come through:

“We don’t know!”

There’s been some variance: Reps from Georgia Tech and CalTech indicated an open mindedness to AI’s assistance, particularly if the student can articulate the ways they used AI as a subordinate tool rather than a substantive auto-pilot. Reps from UW-Madison and University of Pittsburgh have implied that the question is being discussed at a higher level. But right now, no one seems to have a definitive answer.

Uncertainty around this, as well as the upcoming Supreme Court decision related to college admissions, make this a particularly tricky year for students wanting to get a head start on their essays prior to August 1, when next year’s Common App officially rolls out with confirmed essay prompts. This is a topic our college counselors are discussing with students, but here are some general tips to keep in mind:

  1. One possible response to AI writing tools that some colleges seem to be considering is adding the addition of a yes/no question on the supplemental questions portion of the Common App that would ask if a student used AI in any way. To preserve the ability to honestly answer “no,” we strongly encourage students to stay away from these writing aids until or unless the colleges they’re applying to clarify their policies.
  2. Detail and specifics have always been incredibly important for college essays – especially those that ask students why they want to attend a particular college – but that may be going into hyperdrive this year. When tested, ChatGPT produced what I would describe as a pretty average “Why UW-Madison?” essay (for background, I was in the admissions office there and have read thousands of these essays). ChatGPT isn’t (yet) able to dig into the kinds of examples that make for a net-positive “why” essay; instead, it would likely end up being a neutral element in the app, or maybe a net-negative this year if the overall pool’s average shifts. Students should work hard to find specific instructors, courses, programs, research labs, etc., at the colleges they’re applying to and then  – so very important! – explain how and why those opportunities are a good fit for them in particular.
  3. Students must ensure that they are responding to the correct essay prompt. The Supreme Court’s decision this month may scramble some universities’ plans for certain prompts, which might mean that official, correct ones won’t be released until August 1st. Always double check the university website before beginning a supplemental essay (the Common App has already confirmed that the personal statement prompts will be the same as last year, so students can go ahead with that one).
  4. Remember what you can control. As we discuss in many of our admissions chats, there are so many parts of this process that are outside of family/student influence (e.g. pool-wide average test scores, institutional priorities for a given year, the bad news your particular admissions reader got right before opening up your application, whatever AI policy eventually gets adopted by admissions offices), that it’s worth focusing on the sphere of things where students can make a difference. At this point in the process, for the many who may have wrapped up standardized testing, that falls mostly within the application itself, including essays. So get started on drafts early, seek feedback from adults you trust, and work to get them to the best place you can. And if you’d like some professional feedback, reach out about our college counseling and essay coaching.
Close Menu