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AI in essays

This last undergraduate application cycle was the first where artificial intelligence tools were widely available for students, prompting some universities to prepare for applications that would be enhanced or otherwise altered by these tools. A key question became: what constitutes a student’s authentic work and what should be the role, if any, of AI in college essays? College essays are one of the many important factors used by university staff to assess college applicants. College essays provide a window into the personality, values and intangible qualities that are hard to capture in other more qualitative components of the application.

The jury is still out on this question as no prevalent stance has yet to surface on the topic on behalf of universities or other organizations that take part in the college admissions process. The Common Application, where more than 1 million students submit their applications to colleges every year, has not posted any official guidelines on their website regarding the use of AI.

A handful of universities have, nonetheless, taken the lead in communicating their own policy to students. California Institute of Technology, one of California’s premier universities, outlined unethical and ethical uses of AI in admissions essays. It stated:

“What are some examples of unethical uses of AI for Caltech admissions essays?

  • Copying and pasting directly from an AI generator
  • Relying on AI generated content to outline or draft an essay
  • Replacing your unique voice and tone with AI generated content
  • Translating an essay written in another language

What are some examples of ethical uses of AI for Caltech admissions essays?

  • Using AI tools, like Grammarly or Microsoft Editor, to review grammar and spelling of your completed essays
  • Generating questions or exercises to help kick start the brainstorming process
  • Using AI to research the college application process”

As can be seen here, brainstorming and corrections of grammar or spelling would be deemed acceptable. The question of authenticity surfaces within this debate as universities and admissions staff encourage students to find their authentic voice and let it shine in their admissions essays.

Georgia Institute of Technology has also acknowledged the use of AI in the admission process through a statement on their website. Their statement condones the use of AI to generate ideas and help students brainstorm; however, it discourages copying and pasting content directly into the application. GIT, moreover, explains that AI can be a powerful, valuable tool, especially for students who could use extra assistance but for whom resources like college counselors or adults knowledgeable about the college application process would be lacking.

Given that almost all universities have not voiced an official statement regarding the use of AI, if and how it should be used remains widely inconclusive and a source of debate. Students would most likely continue to rely on this powerful tool in their writing, but they should be wary of the importance of authenticity in crafting this important component of their college application.