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  • Writer's pictureKate-Jen Barker-Schlegel

Using AI to Write Your College Admissions Essay

AI. It used to be the stuff of science fiction movies, but it has finally made it into mainstream American culture. How many of you have tried Chat GPT or visited sites like Perfectessaywriter.ai? These are just a few tools that high school students can use to write essays for their academic classes. And yes, in case you are wondering, these same AI tools can be used to write a college admissions essay. Students can generate an admissions essay using AI in under 90 seconds and feed it through additional sites to see if college admissions officers are likely to think their piece is plagiarized or the product of AI. We know....the idea of finishing your Common Application essay in a hot minute is really enticing, but first, there are a few things you should consider.





Is AI to write an Admissions Essay a form of plagiarism?

So before we move on, let's get one thing straight: using AI to write a college admissions essay is dishonest. It is plagiarism, and if caught, colleges may refuse to admit you. However, as a wide variety of articles and Youtube videos will explain, AI can be used in crafty ways to "help" you write your admissions essay without writing it for you. Curious about how college admissions departments plan to handle this reality, I called a handful of highly competitive schools. The response of admissions officers at each was uniform: they acknowledged that AI poses a threat to the admissions process; they plan to do everything possible to differentiate between AI-generated or influenced essays and essays that are written by actual humans; and they admitted that as of May 31, 2023, they have not yet figured out how to do this. This left me wondering: Can AI create college essays that measure up to those written by real people?


Can AI write a College Admissions Essay we well as a human?

Over the past twenty-one years, I have read THOUSANDS of admissions essays. I pulled an essay written in 2019 by a former student. Because this essay stands out as unique, I decided to use it as my control group. I issued commands to Chat GPT to see if it could produce an essay of equal or high caliber on the same topic. I issued three rounds of commands, each more specific than the last. Honestly, I was surprised by the end product. The first draft was much better than expected. The second, as requested, incorporated specific details and a more personal tone. The third demonstrated critical thinking skills by becoming more analytical. Still, something was lacking.


When I repeated this exercise with two additional essays, I found a pattern. While Chat GPT-generated essays were "good," they were not "great." Ostensibly, they checked certain boxes that a strong admissions essay should: they told a unique story focused on personal growth, included descriptive and figurative language, used a hook to pull in the reader, and analyzed the author's experiences and development. But, they lacked an authentic voice. Altogether, I read three versions of three essays - so, nine Chat GPT essays total. Although I cannot quite articulate how, each version had a familiar vibe. I did not feel like I was getting to know a teenager or learning something about how they are. Perhaps it was my bias, but the essays lacked originality and warmth. A superb admissions essay should sell a student to a school. It should make the admissions counselor who evaluates the essay want to accept the student because they know the author has something unique and wonderful to offer a campus community. The essay should offer the reader a glimpse of who the author is beyond the data points provided in their application. It should make a student come to life as a real person. None of the Chat GPT essays that I read accomplished this. I believe that the absence of this quality relates to one inherent flaw in Chat GPT.


Weaknesses Found in AI-Generated Essays

Writing is a curious process. Most high school students are taught to engage in prewriting, which often consists of outlining or brainstorming. Few students actually do this. They are also taught that strong essays result from multiple drafts. The college admissions essay is unique: it has to be brief (under 650 words) yet highly analytical and deeply personal. Those attributes do not naturally mesh and, thus, are difficult to create. It is often through the writing process, after laboring over multiple versions of the same piece, that students find their voice and figure out what they want to share about themselves. Rarely do kids know, when they begin their essay, what they really want to say. They find their message through their writing journey. This is not something a student can do while using AI.


Issuing commands to shape a piece limits a student's exposure to the writing process and thus prevents them from exploring their ideas and voice. Hence, there is little chance that an AI-generated essay will sound authentic and deeply personal. I often tell my students that a strong admissions essay has layers. Its topic, the outermost layer, tells a story. Its middle layer communicates the values of its author - what matters to that person? What motivates them? Its deepest layer, which is always implied, gives the reader a sense of who the author really is and what "special sauce" they will bring to the school they attend. After all, values and skills are transferable. It is up to the reader to extrapolate how the student's experience, described in the essay, will position them to contribute meaningfully to their college community.


AI Detector Tools

I feel compelled to share several additional pieces of information. When I ran the AI-generated essays through AI and plagiarism detector tools, all were positive. When I ran my former student's essay through the same tools, it came up 100% unique. Since AI is so new, there is no way to predict how college admissions departments will handle essays they suspect are less than authentic. It is safe to assume that many will run essays through programs like those mentioned above to determine the source of origin. While plagiarism checkers have been around for some time, AI detectors are new and thus unpredictable. Please note that most colleges and universities in the United States put tremendous value on academic integrity.


Advice to Rising Seniors about AI

Avoid using AI when writing your college admissions essays. The field of AI is VERY new. If the dean of the Admissions Department at an Ivy League school readily admits that she doesn't know how to handle AI yet, it is safe to assume that using AI to write your admissions essay is like playing with fire. NEVER risk being accused of academic dishonesty. NEVER risk having your integrity called into question. And…NEVER risk throwing away four years of hard work, all of which was focused on getting into the school of your dreams, because you don't feel like writing an essay. IT IS NOT WORTH IT!!! WRITE YOUR OWN ESSAYS!!!!

And in case you are wondering, this article is 100% human generated.


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