ChatGPT Can Write Your College Admissions Essay (But It Probably Won’t Be Very Good)

Depending on your perspective, the potential of ChatGPT is either terrifying or awe-inspiring. If you’re not familiar, ChatGPT is an AI-powered “chatbot” that engages in conversational dialogue when given prompts. While the concept of chatbots isn’t entirely new, the capabilities of ChatGPT are – it is capable of  “challenging incorrect assumptions, answering follow-up questions, and admitting mistakes” thanks to its use of human trainers and reward models. In other words, it’s a smarter, more humanlike chatbot than anyone – well, most of us – could have dreamed. For those of us working in the field of college admissions, this immediately raised a BIG question: will students start using ChatGPT to write their college essays?

It’s a valid question. After all, what is a college essay if not “human-like text based on a given prompt”? Jim Jump, a college admissions expert, former admissions counselor, and writer for Inside Higher Ed, had the same question, and put it to the test. He reviewed two essays created by ChatGPT: the standard 650 word CommonApp prompt, as well as the “Why Wisconsin?” supplemental prompt from UW Madison. His final takeaways, outlined below, were enlightening.

  1. ChatGPT crafted cliché essays. Jump stated that the final products felt insincere and unconvincing, and ultimately didn’t even sound like something a teenager would write.
  2. The essays created by ChatGPT did not truly address the prompts. He went on to say that the essays were filled with “vague generalities’ that could be used by many different students applying to many different schools. They didn’t dive deep into the prompt, but rather surfed along the surface.
  3. ChatGPT can create a “passable” essay, but not a standout essay. In short, the essays were coherent but mediocre. They were not the worst essays, but they were miles from the best.

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the importance of the college essay – about the invaluable opportunity to share your voice outside of your scores and transcript. As Jump eloquently puts it, “Great essays have a spark to them that is not about the ability to write but rather the ability to think. Great personal essays are clever and insightful, with an authenticity and a sincerity that’s—well, personal.” The most memorable and impactful essays are the ones that are uniquely YOU, from start to finish. And that’s something a computer cannot replicate, no matter how smart it might be.

One of my key takeaways from the ChatGPT college essay debate? If you want a mediocre essay and you’ve got a college list full of safety schools… well, go ahead and take your chances. If you’ve got bigger ambitions and want to fully seize this ONE chance? Stay far away from ChatGPT. Embrace this moment to show admissions counselors who you are, and who you’ve been becoming for nearly two decades. Lean into your personality, your imperfections, and your one-of-a-kind voice – don’t give that power to a bot.

Still not totally convinced that going the ChatGPT route can hurt you? Know this: a few months back, a student at Princeton, Edward Tian, made an app that can detect writing done by the chatbot. Teachers have already applauded Tian for his creation, sharing that it has helped them identify AI-written work. We all know that plagiarism is unethical, and it’s possible that colleges will start running admissions essays through apps like Tian’s in order to identify plagiarized text. While there are many types of mistakes to avoid on your college essays, plagiarizing your essay might be the very worst one.

Leaning into your authenticity in your college essay is easier said than done, right? That’s why we’re here. At our Enrichery College Workshop our team of academic coaches, writers, and editors will help you come up with the ideal topic ­– then working together to figure out exactly how you should tell your story. Plus, we’ll help you finish your supplemental essays and the rest of your application, all before the school year starts! We’ve got a few spots left for this summer, so book your spot ASAP. We’ll help you write an essay that will put the world’s most impressive AI chatbot to shame.