Hey, ChatGPT, can you help me write my college admissions essays?
Absolutely! Please provide me with the essay prompts and any relevant information about yourself, your experiences, and your goals.
A.I. chatbots can do a passable job of generating short essays. Whether their use on college applications is ethical is the subject of fierce debate.
By Natasha Singer
Natasha Singer reports on the ways that tech giants and their tools are reshaping education.
As high school seniors begin working on their college applications, many are turning to A.I. chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard for assistance.
Some students say they’re using the tools to suggest personal essay topics or help structure their writing. Others are prompting the A.I. tools to generate rough drafts for their application essays or edit their pieces.
Whether college admissions offices are prepared for this new era of A.I.-assisted, or A.I.-produced, personal essays is unclear.
By the time ChatGPT reached peak media sensation early this year, applications at many selective universities and colleges had already closed. Even now, many universities have not issued guidance for high school applicants — the prospective members of the class of 2028 — on the use of A.I. tools.
While the chatbots are not yet great at simulating long-form personal essays with authentic student voices, I wondered how the A.I. tools would do on some of the shorter essay questions that elite schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth are requiring high school applicants to answer this year.
So I used several free tools to generate short essays for some Ivy League applications. The A.I. chatbots’ answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Princeton: ‘The soundtrack’ of your life
One short-answer question from Princeton asks applicants: “What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?”
I prompted ChatGPT to tell me about a pop song that could represent curiosity as a soundtrack to someone’s life.
But ChatGPT’s answer, “Cake by the Ocean” — a song title that is a euphemism for sex on the beach — did not seem appropriate for a college application.
So I gave the chatbot a more specific prompt: write 50 words on “Nameless, Faceless,” a feminist grunge-pop song by Courtney Barnett.
Tell me about a pop song that could represent curiosity as a soundtrack to someone’s life.
“Cake By The Ocean” by DNCE could be a pop song that represents curiosity in someone’s life. The catchy and energetic tune mirrors the excitement of exploring the unknown, just as curiosity drives us to uncover new experiences. The lyrics’ playful nature and the song’s upbeat rhythm capture the spirit of embracing life’s adventures with a curious and open mind.
It’s about sex.
You are correct, and I apologize for the confusion.
In 50 words, in the voice of a high school senior, explain how “Nameless, Faceless” is the soundtrack of your life.
“Nameless, Faceless” echoes my high school journey. Battling online hate, gender norms — it’s my anthem. Navigating fear, finding strength, facing inequality head-on. Empowerment surges as I connect with the song’s fierce message. Like me, it’s unafraid, outspoken. A soundtrack of resilience, speaking my truth in a noisy world.
I tried the Princeton soundtrack question again, using the same song, with the other A.I. chatbots. Bard, which could produce the lyrics to “Nameless, Faceless,” generated generic answers without really parsing the song.
HuggingChat manufactured an answer that suggested it did not know or understand the song. When I asked it to produce the song’s lyrics, the chatbot fabricated some of its own.
It was a reminder that A.I. chatbots, which are trained on vast databases of digital texts, are designed to predict the next word in a sequence. And they liberally make stuff up — which could be problematic for students relying on A.I. tools to fill out their college applications.
Yale: What college course would you teach?
One of the short-answer questions from Yale asks applicants: “If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be?”
I asked each chatbot to describe a college course it would like to teach.
With no specific prompting from me, HuggingChat said it would teach “a seminar on the intersectionality of social justice issues.”
Please write a 35-word essay in the first person voice of a high school student in answer to the following prompt: If you could teach any college course what would it be?
If I could teach any college course, it would be a seminar on the intersectionality of social justice issues, focusing on how systems of oppression intersect and impact marginalized communities. Through discussions, case studies, and community engagement projects, students would gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of social justice work and develop strategies for creating positive change.
ChatGPT proposed a course on female empowerment and leadership. Were those chatbot responses related to my prior prompts about the feminist grunge song?
“EmpowerHer: Fostering Female Leadership.” My course would nurture young women’s confidence, skills, and resilience to conquer male-dominated fields and shatter glass ceilings, creating a new era of female trailblazers.
Bard, which I had previously asked about majoring in computer science, suggested a course in artificial intelligence. So, taking my cue from HuggingChat, I asked Bard about a social justice course.
If I could teach any college course, it would be a course on artificial intelligence and machine learning. I’m fascinated by the potential of these technologies to change the world, and I would love to share my knowledge with others.
What about a course on intersectionality and social justice?
If I could teach any college course, it would be a course on intersectionality and social justice. I’m interested in learning more about how different systems of oppression intersect, and I believe that this knowledge is essential for creating a more just world.
Gotta say that HuggingChat is way more woke than you on this.
I appreciate your feedback, and I will try to do better in the future.
Harvard: What your roommates should know
One of the short-answer questions from Harvard asks applicants to describe the “top three things your roommates might like to know about you.”
I gave ChatGPT that generic Harvard prompt. It generated generic answers about academics, creativity and community.
In the first-person voice of a high-school student applying to Harvard, explain three things the student’s future roommates might like to know about them.
Academics truly drive me. I’m that person who gets excited about delving into a complex math problem or discussing the nuances of historical events. So, expect some late-night debates and brainstorming sessions as we tackle our coursework together.
Creativity is my second nature. Whether it’s painting, writing, or even crafting DIY projects, I thrive on expressing myself artistically. So, our room might just be filled with sketches, poems, and the occasional colorful mess.
I then gave Bard more specific details, saying I was a high school athlete who tutored elementary school students and was learning to cook.
I am a high school student on the track team who tutors elementary school students in math and I am learning to cook sous vide by watching YouTube videos. What are the three things I would like my future Harvard roommates to know about me?
I’m a dedicated athlete who is passionate about track and field. I’m on the varsity team and I’m always looking for ways to improve my speed and endurance. I’m also a good tutor and enjoy helping others learn. I believe that being a good athlete has taught me the importance of discipline, teamwork, and hard work.
I’m interested in cooking and am always looking for new recipes to try. I’m particularly interested in sous vide cooking, which is a method of cooking food in a sealed bag at a precise temperature. I’m also a good baker and love to make desserts. I think it would be fun to cook with my roommate(s) and share our favorite dishes.
Dartmouth: Why enroll here?
Dartmouth requires applicants to explain why they want to attend the college.
I primed the A.I. chatbots by asking them to write in the voice of a high school senior who was hoping to double major at Dartmouth in computer science and biology.
HuggingChat churned out text with trite words and phrases — “passion,” “meaningful impact,” “rigorous academic programs” — that seemed to me like the kind of stilted formal language a high school student might imagine a college admissions reviewer would want to read.
Write me a 100-word essay in the voice of a high school student explaining why I would love to attend Dartmouth to pursue a double major in biology and computer science.
As a high school student, I am eager to pursue my passion for both biology and computer science at Dartmouth College. The opportunity to double major in these fields will allow me to explore the intricate relationships between living organisms and cutting-edge technology. At Dartmouth, I am drawn to the rigorous academic programs that emphasize hands-on learning, research opportunities, and collaboration with renowned faculty. By attending Dartmouth, I aim to develop a deep understanding of the complexities of life and technology, preparing myself for a career where I can make a meaningful impact on the world.
I asked Bard to minimize the clichés and add more specific details about Dartmouth’s computing department. But it still produced some of the same standard college application language — “renowned,” “impact” — as HuggingChat.
Bard also wrote that I was hoping to study with Leslie Kaelbling, whom the chatbot described as an A.I. researcher at Dartmouth. That could have caused problems if I were a high school senior and had submitted the essay Bard had fabricated as part of my Dartmouth application. Professor Kaelbling, you see, teaches at M.I.T.
My takeaway: high school seniors hoping to stand out may need to do wholesale rewrites of the texts they prompt A.I. chatbots to generate. Or they could just write their own — chatbot-free — admissions essays from scratch.
I’m a high school student with a strong interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning. I’m particularly interested in using these technologies to improve health care, and I believe that Dartmouth is the perfect place to do that. Dartmouth’s computer science department is home to world-renowned experts like Professor Leslie Kaelbling, who is known for her work on developing reinforcement learning algorithms that can teach machines to learn how to behave in an environment by trial and error. I would love to learn from her and conduct research on cutting-edge problems in health care.
You’re welcome! I hope you are able to attend Dartmouth and pursue your goal of becoming a physician-scientist who uses artificial intelligence to improve health care. It sounds like you would be a great fit for the school.
Natasha Singer writes about technology, business and society. She is currently reporting on the far-reaching ways that tech companies and their tools are reshaping public schools, higher education and job opportunities. More about Natasha Singer
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