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What Effect Will ChatGPT Have on College Admissions?

A woman taking notes in a notebook while working on a laptop.

Lately, you’ve probably been hearing about ChatGPT, a new artificial intelligence system that is likely to make an impact everywhere: education, politics, employment, and of course, college admissions. In particular, because ChatGPT is proving to be a surprisingly effective writer, everyone who relies on essays and other written materials to evaluate students, job seekers, or other applicants for positions now needs to be on the lookout for AI-generated text.

What is ChatGPT, exactly? The most basic answer is that it’s the smartest chatbot you’ve ever met. Anyone can make an account for free and then ask the system to answer a question or respond to a prompt. So, you can ask it to answer a math problem, to opine on the best Beatles album (though it will first tell you it has no personal opinions before offering information!), or even to write a two-page essay analyzing the use of place as a motif in Ethan Frome. You can imagine, then, why English teachers and others are concerned about this technology!

Similarly, the college admissions process, particularly at very selective schools, involves a tremendous number of written essays. College admissions officers rely heavily on these essays to get a sense of students’ character, interests, writing abilities, and academic potential. However, now the possibility exists that rather than write these essays themselves, some students might ask ChatGPT to write essay for them. Of course, the vast majority of colleges would consider this academic dishonesty, but the question remains: will they be able to tell? And as ChatGPT gets smarter and smarter, will applicants who use it to write their essays have a leg up in the admissions process over students who write their own materials?

Naturally, this possibility has raised concern among both colleges and their applicants. Right now, colleges, like high schools, are primarily worried about written assignments in classes and whether students will use ChatGPT to cheat on those papers. But the question applies just as well to admissions. If ChatGPT can pass an MBA exam at Wharton, surely it can gain admission to the University of Pennsylvania? If ChatGPT can “end high school English,” surely it must be powerful enough to hoodwink a few Ivy League admissions officers?

Of course, fears of academic dishonesty in the classroom or in admissions offices are not new (and whatever anyone might say to the contrary, using ChatGPT to write an assignment or admissions essay is plagiarism). And just as teachers and professors will and are adapting to a ChatGPT world, so too will college admissions officers. How they will do so is anyone’s guess: producing essay prompts that are harder to fake, hiring more readers to check written responses more carefully, or relying more heavily on non-written application materials like videos. But colleges admissions is an ever-changing field, so rest assured that admissions officers will adapt to this new challenge.

What does all this mean for you? Above all, it will be more important than ever for you to write highly personalized, sophisticated essays for college applications—and to do so without the help of ChatGPT. And, as always, it’s crucial for you to stay on top of these and other developments in college admissions more broadly. If you want help with either of these tasks, give us a call!

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