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  • Yangyang Guo

How AI is Changing the Rules of College Admissions

Updated: Mar 21

As an education company that advises students and their parents on college admissions, Blueprint is always looking for new tools and technologies that can help students succeed. One such tool that has been gaining popularity recently is ChatGPT, an AI-powered application that provides essay editing and feedback. While ChatGPT can be a valuable resource for students looking to improve their applications, it's important to use it in the right way.

In this article, Blueprint Director of College Counseling Nelson Ureña and Senior Consultant Yangyang Guo will discuss the dos and don'ts of leveraging ChatGPT for college admissions. We'll provide insights into how to use this technology effectively, as well as pitfalls to avoid, so that students can maximize their chances of success in the college admissions process. Additionally, we will discuss how college admissions policies and rules are already changing in response to AI.

By working with knowledgeable consultants and leveraging technology like ChatGPT in the right way, students can navigate the admissions process with confidence and achieve their academic goals.

Be sure to read to the end of this article, where we share an excerpt from one of our favorite essays this year from our student who was admitted to a top 10 liberal arts college and compare it to an essay written by ChatGPT on the same topic.

Changes in Admissions Policies

At the beginning of 2023, University of Cambridge published changes to its admissions policies. Going forward, Cambridge will no longer require a personal statement from applicants, while the admissions interview will continue as before. Although Cambridge did not mention ChatGPT or AI, citing instead that eliminating the essay will level the playing field for applicants from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the announcement came just a couple of months into the hugely successful launch of ChatGPT.

Soon after, the entire UCAS (UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) followed suit and will be dropping the application essay as of the 2024 application cycle. Instead, students will have to answer a series of questions about the major that the they are applying for.

Over in the US, college admissions offices have not yet made any public comments about how they intend to respond. However, many high selective admissions offices believe AI software, such as ChatGPT, lack the ability to communicate the authenticity and writing prowess they expect in highly qualified applicants. Therefore, they will continue to rely on human admissions officers to detect authenticity and "fit" with their college or university. Additionally, researchers from the MIT-IBM Watson AI lab and Harvard NLP group have already created a free tool called Giant Language Model Test Room to detect whether text content was generated by AI. As more schools consider the use of AI in the admissions process, it will be interesting to see how they address these concerns and adapt their policies accordingly.

In the next section, let us dive into some of the main drawbacks of over relying on AI for your US admissions essays.

Drawback #1: ChatGPT does not know your unique voice or experiences.

While ChatGPT or other AI language tools can certainly help students edit their essays, there are drawbacks to relying too heavily on this technology. One major drawback is that AI cannot fully capture the unique experiences and perspectives that make each student special. ChatGPT may provide helpful suggestions for improving grammar and structure, but it cannot tell a personal story in the way that only the student can. This point is especially important to remember because admissions committees are looking for students who can contribute something new and valuable to the campus community. While ChatGPT can be a valuable resource for improving writing quality, it cannot replace the importance of telling a distinctive story that reflects who the student is as an individual.

Drawback #2: Submitting an essay directly from ChatGPT will only get you to the minimum expected level of quality, rather than really help you stand out.

Students and parents should also realize that ChatGPT cannot serve as not a substitute for genuine effort and creativity. In fact, as more students begin to use this technology, it's likely that the quality of writing that ChatGPT produces will become the minimum level expected of applicants. This means that even if a student's essay is polished and error-free, it may not be enough to stand out when stacked up against meticulously crafted writing from the world’s brightest young minds. Colleges and universities are looking for applicants who can demonstrate not only strong writing skills but also critical thinking, reflection, and vulnerability. By relying too heavily on ChatGPT, students may miss an opportunity to showcase these important qualities. This is especially important for students aiming for top-tier schools, where competition is fierce and a strong essay can make all the difference.

In a recent Insider article titled "I asked ChatGPT to write college entrance essays,” author Beatrice Nolan shared her experience using ChatGPT to write a personal statement. She showed the essays to several college admissions experts, who all the experts agreed that they could not tell the essays were generated by an AI language model. More importantly, however, they also agreed that the essays did not stand a chance of admission at highly selective institutions.

Drawback #3: Skipping the writing process will result in lackluster performance during the admissions interviews.

Because everyone with access to ChatGPT will now be able to submit essays that are at least decently written, admissions committee will increasingly rely on interviews to gauge the true caliber of a student. To write is to think; to think is to write—this is probably something that all of us have experienced. We might think we have something figured out when it’s in our brain, only to find that our thoughts are still a mess when we try to put them in down on paper. Thus, writing the admissions essays will help students clarify their thoughts, while not putting in enough time for this important process will lead to sounding unprepared during the admissions interviews.

Recommended Ways for Leveraging ChatGPT

Although ChatGPT is still no replacement for the good old fashioned art of storytelling, we have identified some pretty neat ways that the technology can be helpful in the college application process. AI is a powerful tool, and if leveraged appropriately, it can make the college application process smoother for applicants.

Below are some ways AI language models can help students:

1. Essay Topic Suggestions

By inputting the essay prompt into the AI model, students can receive suggestions on potential topics and approaches to the essay. This could be useful during the initial brainstorming stage, especially if the student is stuck. To receive ideas that are relevant, students can also tell the AI model about some of their interests and experiences alongside the essay prompt. Just be mindful that this is a tool open to everyone and you thus you will need to add your own personal background and creativity to take the idea from mediocre to great. We like to call this “Computer Aided Human Intelligence.”

2. Initial College Research

AI language models are great research tools. They can aid students in learning about the interesting and unique qualities of each university to which they plan to apply. A quick question to ChatGPT about what makes Cornell University’s architecture program unique yielded the following response:

Question to ChatGPT about what the unique qualities of Cornell's architecture major are.
Answer from ChatGPT about what the unique qualities of Cornell's architecture major are.

As a former Cornell Architecture student, not bad :)

  1. Grammar, Spell Check, and Basic Feedback

AI language models can provide students with a quick and easy way to check their grammar and spelling, saving them time and helping them to avoid simple mistakes that could negatively impact their application. Additionally, AI can can provide general feedback on the quality of the essay, including suggestions on sentence structure, tone, and word choice.

Comparison of an Essay Written by a Human versus ChatGPT

As promised, below is an excerpt from an essay that one of our students wrote during this application cycle. Although we have omitted the rest of the essay to protect their privacy and intellectual property, the student’s depth of thinking, unique voice and perspective, and vulnerability are evident from just the first three paragraphs . With this stellar essay, the student was admitted Early Decision to a top 10 liberal arts college.

Excerpt from a real essay written by a student admitted to a top college.

Then, we told ChatGPT to write an essay using the same idea. We’ll leave you to be the judge—although we think you’ll agree with us that this version is generic and weak compared to what came above.

ChatGPT's version of the essay using the same train of thought as the student of being afraid of the dark, part 1.
ChatGPT's version of the essay using the same train of thought as the student of being afraid of the dark, part 1.ChatGPT's version of the essay using the same train of thought as the student of being afraid of the dark, part 2.
ChatGPT's version of the essay using the same train of thought as the student of being afraid of the dark, part 3.

Clearly, AI cannot yet replace a unique voice, human experience, and excellent writing skills. Instead, let’s leverage the power of AI to work smarter, while continuing to improve our capabilities.

This article was written with the assistance of ChatGPT :)

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