ChatGPT and College Essays: How to Use (and Not Abuse) AI in College Applications

As the AI revolution has given rise to the rapid development of AI-powered chatbots, more and more students are using them to do homework and compose essays. As a result, many educational institutions have become worried about the extent to which students’ use of AI tools will affect the application process.

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Concerns arise regarding the potential misuse of chatbots, raising questions about academic integrity and the authenticity of college admissions essays. At the same time, if applied properly, AI writing tools can benefit students and mitigate inequalities in the admission process.

If you are a high school student kicking off your path toward applying to college, this article is for you! Our custom writing team will explain why you should avoid having ChatGPT to write your college essay and suggest how to use the chatbot ethically, minimizing any possible risks.

🆚 ChatGPT and College Essays: Two Sides of the Debate

There is no single viewpoint on whether using ChatGPT for college essays is appropriate. While some believe AI tools threaten academic integrity, others see them as a valuable opportunity for less advantaged students.

Let’s consider both pros and cons of ChatGPT!

This image shows the pros and cons of using ChatGPT for college essays.

Drawbacks of Using ChatGPT for College Admissions

Opponents of using AI technologies for college essays are concerned about the ethical issues associated with ChatGPT. They believe that using AI tools can decrease opportunities for students to improve their writing skills or limit their imagination and critical thinking.

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In response to these concerns, some schools, such as the University of Michigan Law School, have implemented strict policies prohibiting the use of ChatGPT and requiring applicants to certify that their essays are entirely their own work. Meanwhile, driven by an innovative mindset, schools like Arizona State University Law School allow AI tools but encourage students to declare their use.

Apart from ethical issues, AI-generated college essays raise the question of quality. As a part of an experiment, The New York Times tried to generate college essays for several top universities. The results were far from satisfying as they contained lots of clichés and factual mistakes. So, it’s doubtful that a college admissions committee would be impressed by such submissions.

Here’s a quick recap of the reasons why some people oppose using ChatGPT for college essays:

To learn more about the drawbacks of this chatbot, read our article on the challenges and limitations of ChatGPT for students.

Benefits of ChatGPT for College Essays

Nevertheless, the disadvantages mentioned above do not render ChatGPT incompatible with college essays. In fact, the use of ChatGPT for college essay writing can increase access to educational resources.

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Wealthier students often access extra assistance for their college essays. This support can involve professional tutors or paid services that help them find strong essay ideas and develop compelling arguments.

However:

Not all students can afford such services, placing low-income students at a disadvantage. Besides, the number of students exceeds that of college essay advisors, so not everyone can get enough attention and help.

And this is where ChatGPT can be beneficial. The tool can reduce the resource access gap by replacing the tutor for underserved students and polishing their writing.

Here are some reasons why ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for college essay writing:

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  • It reduces inequalities in education. By offering writing support, ChatGPT can level the playing field for students with fewer resources or less writing experience.
  • It provides versatile assistance. ChatGPT can help students with many writing tasks, from brainstorming ideas to revising grammar.
  • It helps overcome writer’s block. ChatGPT’s suggestions can kickstart the writing process when you feel stuck.
  • It provides individual feedback. The chatbot can analyze your texts and provide individualized suggestions to help you improve your writing style and content.

❌ ChatGPT College Essays: What’s Wrong with Them

ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for brainstorming ideas and editing your writing.

But:

We strongly discourage you from asking the chatbot to write the entire essay for you.

Check out the main issues that will arise if you choose to have ChatGPT complete your personal statement.

This image shows what's wrong with ChatGPT essays.

Lack of Your Personality

Admissions officers use applicants’ written works as a chance to learn more about their distinctive character, talent, and capacity to deal with challenges. However, since ChatGPT does not know you as a person, much of what it says about you can turn out to be a lie.

So, AI-generated college essays:

  • Undermine the authenticity of candidates’ work.
  • Create a barrier to showcasing applicants’ unique character and ability.

Lack of Self-Reflection

Unlike humans, ChatGPT cannot generate deep thoughts or reflect on the experience, interests, or goals. It cannot convey what makes you special in a way that resonates with readers. Nor can it link disparate parts of your life together into a meaningful story.

As a result:

Overly relying on the chatbot to write your personal statement may ruin your chances of entering the desired college.

Generic and Formulaic Content

It’s true that ChatGPT can generate grammatically accurate sentences and follow the basic essay structure. Yet, it lacks the capacity to produce original, compelling content that would pique admissions officers’ interest.

As a rule, AI-written essays are loaded with banal reflections and empty-sounding conclusions. They abound with trite phrases like “I gained valuable insight,” “It shaped my perspective,” and “As I look back on my experience” that usually add no value to writing. These clichés make essays boring and poorly formulated.

Lack of Emotion

The goal of a college essay is to make the admissions committee remember you. And one of the most effective ways to achieve it is by eliciting emotions in your readers. As a rule, your writing can evoke emotions in your audience if you write about what you’re genuinely interested in or what has significance to you.

However:

ChatGPT cannot do this for you. The thing is, writing an emotional essay requires diving into your experiences, accomplishments, and passions to create an engaging story. But AI tools like ChatGPT cannot understand emotions and experiences. So, AI-generated works don’t ignite readers’ interest and usually lack depth, authenticity, and human touch.

🕵️‍♂️ Can Colleges Tell if You Use ChatGPT?

To cut the long story short, yes, they can. Colleges can identify texts produced by an AI generator by paying attention to the red flags or using AI detectors.

ChatGPT College Essay: Red Flags

Here are the top 3 red flags that admissions officers look for to spot AI-generated essays:

  • Clichés. Since ChatGPT generates text based on patterns it learned from, it is not a surprise that it often uses standard transitional phrases and clichés to compose an essay.
  • Vague wording. AI-generated texts are often generic and vague. They lack details and specific examples, making it difficult for admissions officers to connect with the applicant on a personal level.
  • Text that sounds robotic. Owing to its limited understanding of human emotions and lack of imagination, ChatGPT’s essays often sound robotic, devoid of linguistic diversity and creativity.

If you want to learn more about how teachers can spot AI-written essays, read our article on whether you can get caught using ChatGPT.

AI Detectors

Sometimes, generated essays don’t have visible signs of AI authorship. Therefore, college admissions officers frequently use AI detectors to check whether a student has written an essay with AI assistance.

One detection tool often used by colleges is GPT Zero. It looks at “perplexity” and “burstiness” of the text, meaning that it evaluates how predictable is the wording and how often specific phrases are repeated throughout the text.

If you want to learn more about different AI detection tools, check out our list of best AI detectors for students. You can also try our AI Essay Checker to make sure that your essay doesn’t look generated and protect yourself from academic dishonesty allegations.

✍️ How Can You Use Chatbot for College Essays?

While some universities prohibit the use of AI for college essays, others give recommendations on how to use ChatGPT ethically. For example, according to Georgia Tech, AI tools such as ChatGPT can be used “to brainstorm, edit, and refine your ideas,” but at the same time, “your ultimate submission should be your own.”

We share Georgia Tech’s point of view and believe that, if used responsibly, ChatGPT can be a great assistant in writing a college essay! Below, you’ll find fresh ideas you can use the chatbot for!

This image shows how to use ChatGPT for college essays.

Brainstorming Ideas

Since your college essay topic should be unique and interesting, using ChatGPT to brainstorm fresh ideas is always a good decision. It will stimulate your creative thinking and help you to find connections between unrelated experiences or thoughts.

To get ideas for your college essay from ChatGPT, try these prompts:

I’m writing a college application essay, and I’m struggling to find a specific story or experience to write about. Can you suggest some prompts based on my interest in [your area of interest] that might lead to a compelling essay?
I have several hobbies and interests, but I can’t decide which one would best showcase my personality and potential for college. My hobbies and interests include [list your interests, e.g., learning foreign languages]. Can you help me analyze each and pick the most impactful one?
Suggest 5 examples of personal experiences that I, as a high school student, can describe in a college essay to showcase my interest in [subject, e.g., Engineering].

The first prompt will give you a list of essay prompts tailored to your interests. The second one will provide an analysis of your hobbies, explaining what skills and qualities they showcase. This information will help you identify your strengths that you can point out in your college essay. The last prompt will give you examples of personal experiences you can describe in your personal statement.

If you don’t like any of the proposed ideas, you can always ask the chatbot for more. For example, if ChatGPT’s suggestions seem trite and lack originality, you can use a follow-up prompt like “I need essay prompts that are more creative and original. Suggest 5 more ideas.” In response, the chatbot will provide you with additional, less obvious ideas.

Finding Information

As part of a college essay, students are often asked to answer the question, “Why this college?” To effectively address this prompt, you should find specific information about the institution and its programs and consider how they align with your aspirations. ChatGPT can serve as a valuable resource in this process.

You can enter the following prompt:

I want to apply to [college/university name] to study [program name, e.g., Biological Sciences]. Can you suggest specific activities, classes, facilities, clubs, and professors that make this university’s/college’s program a perfect choice for me?

The tool will provide you with a list of your chosen institution’s activities, classes, facilities, and clubs that suit your academic interest. You can use these details to prepare for college interviews or write your “Why This College” essay. However, remember to double-check the generated data before incorporating it into your paper.

If you want more tips on how to search for information with the chatbot, read our article on using ChatGPT for research.

Making an Outline

If you are unsure how to structure your college essay, you can ask ChatGPT to help you create an outline. Try to be as specific as you can with the prompt, describing any facts or opinions that should be included in your writing.

Here’s an example of how your prompt might look:

Generate an outline for a 500-word college admission essay. In the essay, I’d like to describe how my volunteering experience at a museum inspired me to study Art History.

As a result, you will receive an organized and structured plan that will help you to write an engaging and logical college essay.

If you don’t want to bother with ChatGPT, you can always use our free outline maker.

Editing Your Writing

Although tools like Grammarly are effective at detecting errors in writing, ChatGPT is one step forward. You can send it this prompt followed by the text you want to check:

Suggest how I can improve the following paragraph and explain what you have changed: [your text to check]

In response, you will receive an edited version with a detailed explanation of what was improved. As a rule, ChatGPT will revise your text for correctness, clarity, conciseness, and flow. We also suggest you try our transition word adder to ensure a smooth flow of ideas in your essay.

If you only need help with proofreading your essay for grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes without changing the sentence structure, you can use this prompt:

Fix grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes in the following text: [your text to check]

In addition, you can ask the ChatGPT to correct the tone of your writing using the following prompt:

Make this text sound more confident / friendly / conversational / respectful.

If you want to learn more about ChatGPT’s editing capabilities, check out our article on whether ChatGPT can proofread and edit an essay. You can also use our free essay reader to listen to your essay and spot any parts that would benefit from revision.

✅ Bonus: College Essay Resources Besides ChatGPT

Luckily, ChatGPT is not the only tool that can assist you with your writing. Check out some more college essay resources and choose the one that meets your needs!

🌐 Personal Statement GeneratorThis tool provides personal statement examples based on your requirements in seconds.
🌐 Attention Grabber GeneratorThis free online tool creates attention-grabbing hooks. Use it to write an engaging and intriguing statement.
🌐 Essay Introduction GeneratorThis free AI-powered tool is perfect for writing a unique introduction based on your assignment type and topic.
🌐 Hack the College EssayThis short book that contains tips and strategies that can boost your writing skills and help create a compelling college essay.
🌐 GrammarlyGrammarly is an advanced editor that can scan your essay for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and stylistic mistakes.
🌐 Hemingway AppUse this resource to get rid of wordiness. The Hemingway App will make your writing direct, concise, and readable.
🌐 Essays That WorkedUse this collection of college essays to understand the peculiarities of application essays and find inspiration.

We hope that our article will come in handy during your college application. If you use any AI tools in everyday life, tell us more about them in the comments! We would also love if you share this article with your friends or classmates.

Check out other excellent materials about ChatGPT and similar AI tools:

🔗 References

This article was developed by the editorial team of Custom-Writing.org, a professional writing service with 3-hour delivery.
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