You may have already heard about the stir ChatGPT has been making in academia. Your history teacher may have brought it up first — that if you use it for your “history of the Roman Empire” assignment — you will fail the class. Maybe your English teacher switched to in-class essays to ensure you are not going the “easy route.”
If you are too scared to use it, you may not touch ChatGPT. But that begs the question — can you use ChatGPT to write college essays or use another AI essay writer?
The answer: Yes, you can use ChatGPT to write your admissions essay, but not your entire essay. Let’s explore ChatGPT college essays in this post so you have an idea of what we mean.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT by OpenAI is artificial intelligence (AI) in text form. ChatGPT takes text data from the internet to create responses to any question or prompt you input. It can make text to answer any question, providing explanations, suggestions, and more. It is a tool many people use to generate responses and as a source of information. It is important to note that it may not always produce accurate or up-to-date information.
Some high school districts have banned ChatGPT, but colleges and universities will likely have more updated information about ChatGPT. College essays will unroll more policies as the application cycle progresses.
Types of Essays Students May Use AI for
What types of essays are students may use for AI purposes, anyway? Let’s take a quick look.
The Common App
The Common App essay comes from the Common Application. More than 1,000 colleges and universities use the Common App as part of the evaluation process. The Common App essay contains a 650-word limit. The Common App allows you to share something new about yourself that admissions counselors may not know based on your application alone. They should show growth or other characteristics that help a college or university determine why you should join the incoming class. If you are looking for some Common App essay help, check out these nine tips. Once you have revised your essay, make sure your Common App profile looks perfect with these twelve tips.
Supplemental essays are the “extra” essays colleges and universities ask you to create. They typically require a short answer response, often asking for responses of just 150-250 words. Supplemental essays typically ask you to explain your intended choice of major or other interests you have, so include as many supporting details and points of interest as you can. Since you must write specifically about the college or university you plan to attend in your supplemental essays and why you fit that particular institution, you cannot just ask ChatGPT to create it for you.
The Coalition Application
The Coalition for Access and Affordability has about ninety member colleges that accept its application, the Coalition App. Some colleges require an essay. The Coalition’s essay prompts students to share experiences that allow you to share your story. Essays are about 500-650 words and allows colleges to get to know you.
The Coalition Application is meant to support students coming from under-resourced communities and low-income families, though students do not have to indicate that they come from these under-resourced or low-income situations. Students can build a portfolio of work as well directly on the application.
Fewer students fill out the Universal Application, but it is still worth explaining. You will write 650 or fewer words for a personal essay. There are no specific questions, but the website offers a few suggestions. You can write about a life-changing experience, someone you admire, or your viewpoint of a current event.
It also asks for an activity description — extracurricular, volunteer, or employment activities — in 100-150 words.
Finally, the supplements section may also require additional essays. Check out the UCA Colleges page for more information.
Some colleges use their own Institutional applications. For example, the University of California System has its own application on its website. Other colleges have their own application but also accept other application types, including the Common App and Coalition App. Some private institutions may still have their own application.
Should You Use ChatGPT to Write Your Essay?
Can ChatGPT write college essays?
No. It is our expert opinion that you should not use ChatGPT to write your entire essay. However, there’s no reason why you cannot use it to help you come up with ideas. The last thing you want to do is to type the Common App prompts into your essay and use those verbatim.
There are several reasons why you should not use ChatGPT to write your entire essay for you, and while we will discuss more pros and cons later on in the article, ChatGPT is not really very creative. For example, if you asked it to write like Charles Dickens, you may have a difficult time getting exactly what you want.
ChatGPT has also been known to plagiarize and also, just make things up. Here is a quick example: Personal injury attorney Steven Schwartz from New York used ChatGPT to prepare a legal brief, which he filed with a New York district court. Unfortunately, he faces sanctions after ChatGPT made up a series of past cases — yep, out of thin air.
When you talk to ChatGPT, you might get a feeling that you are talking to a — well, a robot. For example, if, as part of your essay, you want to explain being in love for the first time. You may not (should not!) expect ChatGPT to be able to explain it in the unique, amazing way that you would be able to.
Ultimately, the essay must be about you, your preferences, your goals, your ambitions, and your life.
Do Colleges Use Tools to Detect ChatGPT Use?
Yes, colleges can use tools to detect ChatGPT. In fact (and we find this funny!) OpenAI, the very company that created ChatGPT, has started building a text classifier to tell admissions officers (and anyone else who wants to use it) the differences between human-written text and AI-written text. However, it is not completely reliable, but it keeps getting better, just as ChatGPT will get better over time.
Now, to confuse students: What might happen over the next year is that some colleges and universities will let you know they encourage the use of ChatGPT to do things like brainstorm directions for your essay. Many colleges and universities may mention it in their admissions policies on their website and in other materials but expect you not to take everything verbatim from ChatGPT. However, you cannot assume colleges will not use it to detect the use of ChatGPT on full essays.
For example, let’s say that Lindsay, an admissions officer, takes a look at an essay that seems a bit bland and even attempts to tell a joke that is not very funny. She might decide to run it through the text classifier or another AI “checker” to determine whether or not that particular essay will pass the “AI nonuse policy.”
Pros and Cons of Using ChatGPT for College Essays
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of using ChatGPT for college essays.
First, the pros of using ChatGPT for college essays in a responsible manner:
- Can help writer’s block: Everyone who has ever typed a paper or essay can understand the frustration of a blinking cursor on a blank screen. If you have the option to chat with something — even something inanimate — to get some ideas, work out some already fleshed-out suggestions, etc. You can actually chat with it to talk through ideas based on essay topics.
- Can trigger ideas: You may not get any ideas from ChatGPT at all, but it might jog your memory about something else that might fit your situation. For example, if ChatGPT suggests “discuss the time you survived a blizzard” in your essay but you never endured a dangerous blizzard, it might help you come up with an essay about getting shipwrecked with your grandpa when you were eleven.
- Learn facts: You can use ChatGPT to generate general knowledge about places and times in history or websites where you can learn more. If you need a fact about Ulysses S. Grant’s leadership skills to add to your essay, ChatGPT may help you learn more.
- Check for errors: If you have written something and you are not sure it’s 100% accurate, you can ask ChatGPT to check for accuracy. For example, if you write something about dates related to Warren Buffett’s years in the stock market and want to check on those dates, ChatGPT may help. Remember that it makes mistakes, though!
Consider asking for the college’s AI and academic dishonesty policies if you do not see them readily online. It is also a good idea to be candid with exactly how you plan to use ChatGPT with the admissions counselor even if a college or university allows the use of ChatGPT.
What about the downsides of ChatGPT? There are definitely downsides of a ChatGPT college essay, even if you simply use it to drum up ideas:
- Robotic: ChatGPT will never feel as warm and fuzzy as talking to your grandmother, and that is because it has not mastered the basics of human emotion. How could it? Do not expect ChatGPT to “understand” you. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the college essay tries to get at — your innermost longings and goals.
- Cannot create your vision: If you think ChatGPT will solve all your problems by conveying your complex personality, it cannot. Only you can outline everything you are thinking inside your own brain and the thoughts you have that only come from the amazing, wonderful you!
How to Write an Essay Using ChatGPT
We know this header sounds like it contradicts everything mentioned before about not using ChatGPT for writing essays, so let’s clarify.
You can use ChatGPT to brainstorm and to prompt it to develop information about essay topics. For example, let’s say you have dreams of someday conquering Mount Everest and want to thoroughly convey that in your essay topic. You could prompt ChatGPT with questions like:
- What are the most treacherous Everest summit attempts over the course of history?
- What kind of character development would someone who summits Everest undergo?
- How might summiting Everest develop your leadership skills?
AI guidance can help you think of many different avenues for your essay, and you could literally spend hours developing it. As long as it is not a “copy-and-paste” essay straight from ChatGPT (because it will produce a super generic essay), why not use it to develop your ideas?
Just do not forget to fact-check your essay, because it could spit out information that just isn’t true. For example, ChatGPT might say that George Washington’s dentures were made of wood, when in fact, they were made of human and animal teeth, ivory from hippos or elephants, a lead-tin, copper, and silver alloy. (Note that we do not know whether ChatGPT might say that for sure.)
Other Resources for Students
Campus to Career Crossroads offers extensive essay services with resources from beginning brainstorming to end, from first draft to final draft.
At Campus to Career Crossroads, we take an individualized, specific approach for tackling all college essays. We will also work to ensure that you are comfortable with the process. Some students find it the most exciting part of the application process because it gives them a wonderful platform to express themselves. Let us help you get your essays off on the right foot and find the right college fit.
Consider the Implications of ChatGPT College Admissions and Essays
ChatGPT will continue to be a popular discussion among colleges, high schools, and our office as it continues to evolve. You will likely see notifications about this AI tool and others in the future from colleges, plus information mandating scrupulous academic honesty in the future.
Keep in the back of your mind that AI detection software will continue to get better and AI will continue to get better at interacting with us. Ultimately, it is up to all of us — parents, students, teachers, school counselors, admissions professionals — everyone! — to use it responsibly.
Just because you should not use ChatGPT to write your entire essay does not mean there are not resources to help you put together a great college essay. There are many other tools and strategies you can use instead of ChatGPT, including our services at Campus to Career Crossroads.
Take a look at a few frequently asked questions you may still have about using ChatGPT or other AI tools for college essays.
Can you use ChatGPT to write college essays?
Yes, you can use ChatGPT to write college essays, but that does not mean it is a good idea. Colleges and universities may start unrolling their recommendations of how to use ChatGPT soon. They may even encourage it! However, it is not a good idea to use it to type in one of the Common App essay prompts and use whatever it spits out. It will be bland, not tailored to you as an individual, and cannot recount your life experiences.
Do colleges know if you use ChatGPT?
Colleges can detect the use of ChatGPT using tools designed to identify it. You do not want to risk your admission to your No. 1 school by using ChatGPT and then getting caught. Carefully check the school’s policies and make a decision from there.
Will ChatGPT kill the student essay?
Does AI spell the death of the college essay? Yes, it is very possible! Rather, it is possible that students will have more ways to express themselves to a college admissions committee or group of readers. For example, maybe colleges will start offering video options. Imagine getting into college based on a cool TikTok video that you create! Essay writing is as old as the hills, so it may be that it is time for a change in the 21st century, anyway.