ChatGPT Can’t Write Your Essay for You;
But Here are 5 Ways It Can Help You Write Your Own
I wrote a previous post about how the new AI bot called ChatGPT would not be able to write your college application essay for you.
At least not yet, and possibly never.
But I believe this writing, editing and research tool can be a powerful help to brainstorming, outlining, drafting and editing your college admission essays.
And it will be especially helpful to any college-bound students who are not confident in their writing skills, as well as international students who are writing in a second language.
I love how this tool can act as a fairness leveler for these essays and the application process!
And it will only get better with time.
First, get a free account and play around with ChatGPT-3 (the latest ChatGPT version).
How ChatGPT Can Be Your Private Editor
I’ve only messed around with ChatGPT a short time, but I’ve quickly seen ways it can help students with their college admission essays.
So far, this tool mainly can help students generate academic-style essays, with traditional introductions using thesis statements, and a conventional structure and colorless voice.
College application essays are a different beast.
They need to use a more conversational and narrative writing style.
The point of these essays is not to inform and impress, but to engage the reader at the start and share personal background and real-life experiences.
The best college application essays are what are known as “slice-of-life” essays, which help reveal your personality and what you care about the most.
So far, you can still do this way better than a robot.
That said, this new tool is whip smart and a fast learner, and already offers help in crafting your college application essays.
But be wary, and make sure you remember the goal of your essay, and what will make it stand out and help differentiate you from other students.
Here Are 5 Ways ChatGPT Can Help You with Your College Admissions Essay:
- Brainstorming Topic Ideas: To use ChatGPT to help spark a topic idea for your essay, I would start by playing around with the tool. Cast a wide net by trying various prompts/commands, and just see what it throws back at you. Most likely, it won’t come up with one amazing idea for you, but it could help fire up your memory and help you make connections that lead to other ideas. For instance, take one of your more unusual interests, hobbies or activities, and ask it to “Generate 5 ideas on bug collecting.” Or “Generate ideas about roller coasters.” Just see what it spits out. Chances are the ideas will be on the generic side. Keep going. Ask it to give you more examples, or quotes, or poems, news articles, sources on that topic. Keep telling it what you want. The more specific your topics, the more specific the info it will give you.
Make sure to first learn what makes a great college application topic so you know what you are looking for: 5 Top Tips on Finding Topics. You also can use this approach for collecting background on any topic that you want to include in your essay, whether it’s an abstract concept, such as freedom, social justice, diversity…or a more concrete subject, like mountain biking, jazz greats, karaoke, OCD, video games, etc.
- Generate an Outline: Although I teach students to use an outline that deviates from the traditional 5-paragraph outline for essays, I think this tool can help you organize parts of your essay. You will need to experiment and use your judgment to determine if you like the suggested structure. Direct the tool to “Generate an outline on (topic)” and see if you find it helpful.
You could take a rough draft of your essay and ask it to generate an outline to see how it organizes what you have written, and then move the chunks around how you want (“Generate an outline on this essay” and paste essay after). I advise students to ditch the 5-paragraph outline and instead start their essays with an example of their main point, in the form of an anecdote (mini-story), to engage the reader at the start.
- Expand or condense: ChatGPT-3 works as your personal editor to either expand your writing on an idea or topic, or condense or summarize something you have written. Again, it’s imperfect, since it, not you, decides what is important to keep or chop. But if nothing else, it gives you an idea of how to do both.
If you ask it to expand on an idea or topic, it often will bring in new information, details or examples that you didn’t have before, and then you can decide whether to use them or not. This is amazing if you run out of things to say about a topic, or have said too much and need to fit a word count.
- Re-writing: Sometimes you need a new way to say the same thing. ChatGPT can take a sentence or paragraph(s) you have written and re-write them in fresh language. This is incredibly powerful, especially in these college application essays where you often have a specific value or personal quality you are showcasing in your essay, and find yourself using the same words. Just take what you have written and direct it to “Rewrite this sentence.”
Again, use the results as raw copy and read it out loud and play with the words until YOU like how they sound and work. Never relinquish control of what you want to say to what ChatGPT-3 churns out. Since college application essays are written in the first-person, experiment with including asking it to put copy it generates in the first-person to see how it’s done. Example: “Rewrite this paragraph using the first-person.”
- Proofreading: ChatGPT-3 is a brilliant fact-checker and proofreader. Take your draft, at any point in the process, and ask it to “proofread” or “fact check” your essay or paragraph or whatever. Compare the results. Again, you need to give it the final read. You have worked hard on your essay, so why not use every tool to make it as flawless as possible. One red flag on proofreaders: Whether they are robots or humans, it’s important to keep your casual, familiar voice in these college application essays.
Often, others will catch what they think are errors, but instead are deliberate, yet unconventional style decisions that create your narrative style and voice (such as contractions, everyday language or jargon, etc). Keep these if they work! Never let any proofreader flatten or take the life out of your essay.
This should help get you started using ChatGPT with your college application essays. Experiment, play and have some fun. Use it wisely.