The all-important college admissions essay has long been a screen for college admissions offices. How thoughtful is the applicant? How articulate? What is the applicant’s character, the person’s goals and values?
Now they have to ask another question: am I hearing from the student or from a chatbot?
Students often face paralyzing anxiety over the essay, seeing its success or failure as determining their future chances of success. No doubt many will turn to AI for inspiration, ideas, or some lofty language to help close the deal.
“The idea that this central component of a story could be manufactured by someone other than the applicant is disheartening,” Lee Coffin, Dartmouth College’s dean of admissions, said in a podcast earlier this year.
“Students are going to have access to and use AI,” admissions director Rick Clark at the Georgia Institute of Technology said to The New York Times. “The big question is, how do we want to direct them?”
Some see using AI as an essay partner as evening the odds in admissions. Students from higher-income or better-educated families have relatives and mentors who often lead them through drafting and revising their essays, they point out. Why shouldn’t disadvantaged students also have an “essay mentor?”
“It’s progress toward equity,” Clark said.
Of the more than a dozen colleges and universities the NYT asked about the policy on students using AI to craft their admissions essays, most declined to answer.
TRENDPOST: Schools’ admissions offices probably didn’t respond to the NYT’s inquiry because they haven’t yet figured out how to respond to AI.
A range of responses have been proposed. Some people have suggested students sign a pledge that AI didn’t play a part in their essays. Others think that high-school teachers should be asked to attest that an essay represents a good example of the student’s capacities and character. A few would like to see two essays—one that AI has created and the version that shows how the student would improve on AI’s text.
Some software programs calculate the odds that a piece of writing was created by AI. However, that calculation is scrambled when AI-generated text is modified by a human.
Until the College Board or other overarching body creates a policy that members are willing to adhere to, colleges are on their own to figure out just how to respond to the “AI dilemma.”