ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language software launched in November 2022 by OpenAI. Trained on a large database of text, this chatbot is capable of generating conversational responses to various prompts. The implications of this software are huge, and the whole world is abuzz with what this technology could mean for various industries moving forward. 

Like with all new inventions, people’s emotions range from awe and excitement to skepticism and dread. One of the questions on many people’s minds is, how will ChatGPT affect college admissions and the college application essay? Although it’s a bit too early to tell, college admissions counselors and officers have several theories of how ChatGPT could affect college admissions.

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What is ChatGPT?

According to its website, OpenAI strives “to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.” The company’s latest product is ChatGPT, a chatbot capable of writing essays and other short responses after being given a prompt. According to a New York Times article, ChatGPT is “the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public.” It is also worth noting that more than one million signed up for a test trial within the first five days of its release. 

ChatGPT can be used in a myriad of ways. Many people have plans to use the platform to write business proposals, cover letters, professional bios, website content, and more. In other words, ChatGPT could eventually replace the need for copywriters and other writing professionals. But what about college essays?

Although ChatGPT is capable of creating logical, grammatically correct sentences and incorporating certain data when prompted, is it capable of creativity? After all, great writing isn’t just about communicating key facts; great writing requires creativity, sensitivity, and a unique perspective. 

Is ChatGPT capable of writing a college essay?

So, is ChatGPT capable of writing a college essay? Well, as it happens, Forbes already prompted ChatGPT to write two college essays, both of which you can view here. The remarkable thing about these essays is that Forbes was able to request revisions and specify a total word count. 

Let’s take a look at some of the actual prompts Forbes used:

“Hi GPT, I’d like you to write a college application essay as if you were an 18-year-old high school senior whose parents are from Bangalore, India, but who now owns a restaurant in Newton, Mass. He is a competitive swimmer, and in 10th grade, he broke his shoulder. He is interested in majoring in business. Please make the essay a maximum of 650 words and write it in response to this prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

After reviewing the first draft, which took ChatGPT less than 10 minutes to write, Forbes made another request: 

“Thanks, GPT, this is a great start. Please keep what you have but add more information about our student’s background and work in the restaurant.”

Pleased with the results, Forbes made their final request, asking ChatGPT to combine these two sections into a single essay. Although these two essays aren’t entirely expressive or unique, they are both coherent and professional. 

Jim Jump, a college admissions counselor and academic dean, responded to these two essays by saying, “I found both essays to resemble cliché essays, with neither answering the prompt in a convincing way. They also didn’t sound like an essay a teenager would write, but rather an essay a teenager might write with major assistance and editing by an adult.” You can read Jim Jump’s full opinions here.

So, what does all of this mean for college admissions?

Is ChatGPT capable of writing a college essay?

great college essay requires authenticity, creativity, and critical thought. College admissions officers want to learn more about who you are as a person and what your values are. It’s important that they feel inspired by your essay somehow. This might mean making them laugh. Or considering an entirely new perspective. In other words, there are lots of components of a strong personal statement that simply cannot be captured through using ChatGPT. 

How could ChatGPT affect higher education and college admissions?

College essays are key admissions factors, especially at highly-selective institutions. College essays help personalize the admissions process and advocate for more holistic college admissions standards. But what if a student submits an essay written by ChatGPT? 

While it’s debatable whether or not a college admissions officer will be able to tell whether or not the student actually wrote the essay, it’s important to highlight the fact that AI-written documents cannot capture a student’s unique values, ideas, and perspectives. So while a ChatGPT college essay may be adequate, it probably won’t be exceptional — which is what Ivy League institutions are looking for.

ChatGPT and plagiarism

Most institutions of higher education require students to sign an academic integrity contract upon attending. It’s possible that as the popularity of ChatGPT rises, colleges may ask students to verify that they wrote the essay themselves upon submitting their college applications. Sort of like the “I am not a robot” prompt you to get on your computer, where you have to select all the pictures of stop signs or cars. Although ChatGPT is a new technology, it’s likely that colleges will view ChatGPT college essays as a form of plagiarism.

AI detecting softwares

There is already AI-detecting software that can determine whether a robot or a human wrote a text. This app is called GPTZero. It’s likely that more platforms such as this will be developed in the near future and that college professors and college admissions officers will use these platforms to screen essays for AI-generated content. 

Key takeaways and moving forward

It’s important to note that ChatGPT is not necessarily programmed to be culturally aware or appropriate. Furthermore, students’ unique perspectives and creativity simply cannot be captured through this program. So, while ChatGPT is an extraordinary technological advancement, many ethical considerations are at stake.