Sorry, Artificial Intelligence Won’t Save You
From the Dreaded College App Essay.
When I first heard about ChatGPT, and how this new artificial intelligence bot could write college essays for students, I thought, “Ugh oh, looks like my no one is going to need my services anymore” for help with their college application essays.
Apparently, the bot generates essays that can fool teachers and even Turnitin.com. Yikes!
Of course, the education world is freaking out. There’s talk of returning to pen and paper for essay assignments.
At the moment, the ChatGPT model by Open AI is free. So I tried it out.
(See below what it wrote when I entered: “Write a college application essay”)
My goal was to see if ChatGPT could write a viable college application essay.
Based on my results, it failed.
Because college application essays are different from the academic essays students write for English courses or other subjects.
They aren’t pedantic or simply about the facts and information.
College application essays have to be about you–so no two are alike.
The more personal and unique the essay, the more effective it will be in landing you in your target school(s).
The trial college application essays generated for me by ChatGPT were general, dull and lacked any voice or personality.
Finding Your Personal Stories Will Be More Important Than Ever!
With this new AI technology, finding your unique voice and real-life stories to share becomes even more important.
That’s the whole reason colleges have you write them.
They want to see how you are different from everyone else.
And the best college application essays capture your personality, character and feelings–revealing what you care most about, and why.
Even the most sophisticated Artificial Intelligence robot can’t do that for you.
At least not so far.
Personally, as a lifelong lover of reading and writing, I don’t feel threatened by this new technology, either for my job as a writing coach here, or for the future of all essays and language.
A friend equated ChatGPT to the development of calculators.
Yes, people could suddenly do crazy equations they couldn’t do nearly as fast on paper or at all.
But calculators didn’t replace math, or the need for us to learn and use it.
They have found their place as another knowledge tool.
I believe ChatGPT and other writing/editing bots will do the same thing.
It’s a new tool and we should embrace it, not fear it.
If you have time and interest, check it out!
It’s mind-blowing to say the least.
Right now it’s free and open to the public as a Beta.
Get an account, read the directions and have at it.
Enter “college application essay” and your own name.
It seems to get more specific info on you if you include keywords about yourself that would narrow the field.
My understanding is that ChatGPT has many options to let you direct it to generate more specific information, and even “teach” it things.
Here’s a great video tutorial for beginner ChatGPT users:
I kept my first request for a college application essay simple, entering only my son’s name and our hometown.
I typed in this prompt request: “Write a college application essay about XXX Robinson from Laguna Beach, CA.”
In seconds, it generated a bunch of general background about my son that was about half-true. (You can see results below.)
I would be wary of the information ChatGPT generates about you, and double check all the facts.
Colleges and universities have sophisticated plagiarism checkers.
From my preliminary experiments, it seems too good at making stuff up.
Otherwise known as The Art of BS.
Also, notice that the ChatGPT writing is straight-forward, cliche and dry (i.e., boring to read)
We Need to Learn How to Use ChatGPT to Help Write College Application Essays
A powerful college application essay uses a different style of writing, called narrative writing.
It uses the first-person (I, me, you, us…) and creative writing techniques, such as anecdotes (mini-stories), descriptive language, dialogue, etc…
A powerful college application essay also engages the reader at the start. Very important!
These ChatGPT-generated essays starts by stating general facts and have no “hook.”
They were also very general. To get personal, you need details. And lots of them!
But see for yourself!
Try Out ChatGPT While It’s Free!
I would enter your name, your city, maybe name of your high school, and other touch points in your life.
Like your parent’s names, any specific organizations you belonged to, any specific clubs or jobs.
For your college application essay, ChatGPT might be handy in giving you some material about yourself that you hadn’t thought of.
But overall, I think you can do better by collecting your information on your own.
My main advice, offered in posts all over this blog for how to write an effective college application essay, is to brainstorm real-life events, moments or experiences you had, and use those to write about yourself.
I don’t think this AI bot can help you find those. (But who knows?)
Maybe it could tweak your memory for some good real-life experiences.
For now, I think if you want to write a killer college application essay about yourself, you are still pretty much on your own.
And of course, there’s plenty of help all over this blog!
As a last resort, I’m also still available as a real person to help if you need it.
Lastly, here’s another post I wrote on How to Use ChatGPT for a College Application Essay that has 5 specific tips on ways to use this amazing tool to help write your essay!
Here are results of my playing around with ChatGPT:
ENTERED: “Write a college application essay”
RESULTS: “Throughout my life, I have been driven by a passion for learning, an insatiable curiosity, and an innate drive to succeed. This has been apparent in my academic pursuits and extracurricular activities alike. I have always wanted to challenge myself, to push the boundaries of my knowledge and capabilities, and to face new experiences with enthusiasm and determination. When I began high school, I was eager to explore the opportunities that lay before me. I was a member of several organizations and clubs, and I took on leadership positions in many of them. I excelled academically, and I was rewarded for my hard work with several awards and honors. I was also able to take advantage of the many educational opportunities offered by my school, and I was able to gain a deeper understanding of my interests and passions. My enthusiasm for learning and my dedication to excellence have been the driving forces behind my success. I believe that college will offer me the opportunity to explore my interests further and to challenge myself in ways that I could not have done in high school. I am confident that I will be able to make the most of my education, and I am eager to take on the challenges that college will bring. I know that I have the drive and determination to succeed in college, and I hope that my commitment to learning and my enthusiasm for knowledge will be seen in my application. I am confident that I will be able to make the most of my college experience and that I will be able to use my education to make a positive difference in the world.”
ENTERED: “Write a college application essay about me”
RESULTS: “My name is Jonathan Smith, and I‘m a senior at XYZ High School. I‘m applying to college to pursue a degree in biology with a focus on environmental science. I‘m passionate about the environment, and I believe that my background and interests make me an ideal candidate for your program. Growing up, I was always very curious and inquisitive about the world around me. I was always asking questions and trying to figure out how things worked. In high school, I was able to hone this curiosity by taking advanced science courses such as AP Biology and Chemistry. These courses allowed me to explore various scientific topics in greater depth, while also giving me the opportunity to participate in lab experiments. I have also been involved in a number of extracurricular activities, such as the student government and the Environmental Club. Through these activities, I have had the chance to learn more about the environment and the ways in which we can protect it. I have also been able to take part in various outreach programs, such as beach clean–ups and tree–planting events. These experiences have deepened my understanding of the importance of taking action to protect our planet. I am confident that my scientific background, enthusiasm for the environment, and commitment to taking…
ENTERED: “Write a college application essay about Janine Robinson of Essay Hell”
RESULTS: Janine Robinson is an amazing role model for aspiring college students. She is the founder of Essay Hell, an educational website that provides guidance and resources to help high school and college students write effective college application essays. Janine has been a source of inspiration to many young people who have used her advice and guidance to successfully complete their college applications. Janine‘s journey began when she was a high school student herself. She was an excellent student and had an impressive academic record, but she was completely lost when it came to writing her college application essays. After struggling to write her essays for several weeks, she decided to take a different approach and started researching the craft of writing essays. She studied the best essay writers, analyzed the structure of successful essays and even attended workshops on the subject. By the time she was finished, Janine had become an expert on college application essay writing. She realized that there were many other students who were in the same boat, who were facing the same struggles she had faced. This inspired her to create Essay Hell, a website where students can find the guidance and resources they need to write effective, compelling college application essays. Through Essay Hell, Janine has helped thousands of students get into their dream schools. She has provided them with the knowledge and confidence they need to write their essays, and has given them the courage to submit their applications. Janine has also used her platform to provide students with resources to help them make informed decisions about their college career paths. Janine Robinson is a true hero in the world of college admissions. She has used her knowledge and experience to provide countless students with the assistance they need to write effective essays and to find their paths to success. Her work is an inspiration to all and she is an exemplary role model for aspiring college students.
(Most of this information about me is pure BS. It captures some facts about me and my background, but a lot of it is highly embellished and flat wrong.)
ENTERED: “Write a college application essay about XXX (my son’s name) Robinson from Laguna Beach”
RESULTS: XXX Robinson is an inspiring young man from Laguna Beach, California who is driven to make the most of his academic and extracurricular opportunities. His accomplishments speak for themselves: he is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Scholar, and he has achieved a 4.0 GPA while taking a rigorous course load of AP classes. XXX’s commitment to excellence is also evident in his extracurricular activities. He is a percussionist in the Laguna Beach High School marching band, and is a leader on the field. He serves as the vice president of the school’s robotics team, and is a member of the National Honor Society. XXX also volunteers at the local animal shelter, dedicating his time to helping homeless animals find loving homes. What truly sets XXX apart, however, is his commitment to his community. He is a dedicated philanthropist, having raised thousands of dollars for the preservation of Laguna Beach’s coastal environment. He is also a dedicated mentor, having founded a program to help underprivileged students prepare for college. XXX Robinson is a passionate and driven individual who exhibits extraordinary academic and extracurricular accomplishments. He also demonstrates a commitment to helping others, which makes him an outstanding candidate for college admission. He has the potential to make a positive impact on campus and the world beyond.
(This is pretty hilarious to me. They got some of it right, but almost all details are way off. He was a top student but not a National Merit Scholar, and he played trumpet instead of percussion in the marching band, he never volunteered at the animal shelter, and he was not a “philanthropist, having raised thousands of dollars …” The takeaway for me on this one, having entered the real name of a student and hometown, is that the ChatGPT bot recognized him on some level, but made up a bunch of stuff that was untrue. So if you try this yourself to generate background on yourself, be careful! Truth matters, especially in these essays.)