I have long held the belief that writing a college admissions essay can be the single-most transformative experience that a student has. If the student does it correctly, the process of writing a college essay uncovers deep reflection, self-awareness, and a willingness to embrace oneself exactly where they are at the time of applying to college.
I have read, edited, and evaluated hundreds of thousands of essays in my almost-25-year career. The best essays are never the perfectly well-written and polished essays. Instead, the best essays are the ones that exude authenticity and heart.
When ChatGPT exploded on the scene a few months ago, I had my doubts. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence web app that allows users to input questions or prompts, and then it quickly delivers an answer or essay. Technology experts are hailing ChatGPT as the most groundbreaking chatbot to ever be released to the public.
However, not everyone sees ChatGPT as the new standard in writing. Many worry that students will use ChatGPT to complete assignments and write essays instead of going through the writing process on their own. School districts and colleges across the country are banning ChatGPT due to concerns of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. There are rumors that colleges will want to eliminate the essay requirement from applications because students will be able to use it to write an essay.
But I don't think that is going to happen anytime soon. Ask any admissions officer who loves their job and they will tell you that the college essay is the best part of a student's application. College admissions essays should have a deeply personal tone to them. The ChatGPT essays that I read have a deeply soulless tone instead. The writing by ChatGPT is structurally sound, but it lacks the vulnerability of a teenager who is trying to make sense of their life in the most honest and imperfect way.
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My team and I did an exercise to test out ChatGPT. We inputted some of our current students' topics in Application Nation - Class of 2023 to see what type of essay ChatGPT would deliver. Then we compared the ChatGPT essays to the essays the students actually wrote. There was simply no comparison. The ChatGPT essays were basic, impersonal, and sterile. The students' actual essays were breathtaking, moving, and genuine. Anyone who works in college admissions could easily tell the difference between the two versions.
I am not naive. I know that ChatGPT or its competitor can perfect writing in the future. But the college essay is not meant to be perfect. It is used by colleges to hear directly from the student about their perfectly imperfect life.
I challenge all types of students to embrace the college essay. They will learn more about themselves than they ever imagined. The writing-averse STEM students, the immigrants who are not native English speakers or writers, the teenagers who are not comfortable writing about themselves, and the many students who do not have confidence in writing (just yet) are actually the ones who have the most to gain from writing their own college admissions essay. And the students who enjoy the writing process have the most to give.
I am not afraid of adapting how we approach the college admissions process. But using AI as a replacement for writing the college essay is like having someone take the SAT for you. And eliminating the college essay altogether would be like removing the last trace of humanity from the college admissions process.