AI and the Future of College Application Essays
Updated: Feb 13
Since the last time I published a blog post, the news has exploded about computers that can perform academic tasks. ChatGPT(“generative pre-trained transformer”), built by San Francisco-based Open AI and released to the general public in November of 2022, is leaving educational consultants like me wondering about the future of the personal statement and supplemental essays.
If you don’t know how ChatGPT works, this EdSurge podcast offers a helpful explanation: https://soundcloud.com/edsurge/what-will-chatgpt-mean-for-teaching. In a nutshell, you type in your request, and voila, the computer speedily generates an original response. Within a few seconds, you will have your summary of the moon landing, a literary response, a college admission essay, or a blog post about using AI to write college application essays, although for the record, ChatGPT did not write this post for me.
I was first introduced to ChatGPT by my son, who knew exactly how to demonstrate the power of AI to his former-English-teacher mom; he prompted ChatGPT to provide a one-paragraph response detailing the symbolism of Piggy’s death in Lord of the Flies. Not only was the content of the response accurate, it was eerily well written, with varied sentence structure, transitions, and solid vocabulary. This hit close to home; I really feel for the teachers and professors out there, though if I were still teaching, I would only assign in-class handwritten essays in the future.
Using AI to write anything for school or college applications is a blatant form of plagiarism in my mind, but the toothpaste is out of the tube and there is likely no turning back. Stanford’s Rob Reich acknowledges, “While it’s important that parents and teachers know about these new tools for cheating, there’s not much they can do about it. It’s almost impossible to prevent kids from accessing these new technologies, and schools will be outmatched when it comes to detecting their use.” Not all educational technologies are bad, and they inevitably shape the way we teach our children. Handheld electronic calculators were introduced to us in 1972; can we even imagine functioning in today's world without that technology?
So what are college admission officers to do when applicants are able to type in some keywords about what they want to convey in their college admission essays, and their computers will churn out responses within seconds? Jim Jump for Inside Higher Ed suggests that AI may mean the end of the college admission essay altogether. After all, he asks, “how can you use an application essay to help make admission decisions when you can’t tell whether the student actually wrote the essay?"
While Mr. Jump makes an excellent point, I personally feel that the college essay, when written by the actual applicant, says the most about the student’s values, challenges, and other qualitative measures that don’t appear elsewhere on the application. It presents the student with a unique opportunity to reflect on the past, present, and future, and I would hate to see it go.
As always, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions about anything college-admissions related, and seniors, good luck as you await the rest of your college news!