Within a few minutes, any student can have ChatGPT 4.0 produce a top 1% college application essay.
Given that the content of the essays is not fact-checked and now even the authenticity of the writing itself is suspect, why have colleges not changed their admissions procedures?
The answer: colleges did not want to lose their primary means of subjectively shaping their class. As Jeff Selingo (one of the foremost experts on college admissions) points out, colleges have kept test-optional admissions for the same reason: “maximum flexibility in shaping a class.”
Some colleges have devised interesting rationale to justify staying the course: “It was unfair that some students could pay for inauthentic essays, so now it’s more fair that every student can, for free, have inauthentic essays” (I am paraphrasing the position of Rick Clark, Executive Director of College Admissions for Georgia Tech).
In a way, he’s not wrong: if some students were submitting inauthentic essays, then it is actually more fair that now all students can submit inauthentic essays. But this is hardly the fairest or most desirable outcome: it would be fairer to require in-person or virtually proctored essays, video responses to the application questions, etc. But we have to interact with the world as it is, not as it should be, and colleges have so far not adapted quickly enough to update their admissions procedures to ensure authenticity. The reaction from applicants has been interesting.
Most people would probably assume that paid college essay assistance would fade (or simply disappear). That is a reasonable assumption. Why would people pay for essay assistance when everyone could have a top 1% essay on their own in minutes?
Ironically, the question itself holds the answer: There are still the same number of limited spots at top colleges, so the competition for those spots was not erased. Instead, because everyone can have a top 1% essay, the competition for stand-out essays only intensified.
Summit Prep has never been so busy with essay assistance. Not even close.
ChatGPT can produce almost any essay that a student desires: students can prompt it to express gratitude, empathy, etc.
What students can’t do with ChatGPT, however, is see how other students are adapting their essays in response to ChatGPT being available to everyone.
The best essays this year are not the best essays from prior years. ChatGPT was trained on the writing from prior years. If you ask it to write a beautiful college application essay in response to an essay prompt, it will do so. But therein lies its limitation. If all essays read like beautiful essays from years past, then the essays this year that will stand out are not essays that sound like beautiful essays from years past.
“As I jogged toward the pitcher’s mound for the championship game, the emerald expanse of the field stretched before me, its grassy fibers kissed by the golden alchemy of the setting sun; and in that ephemeral moment, I felt as if I were stepping into a moment bigger than myself.”
That’s beautiful writing. But you can’t write like that anymore. Why? Because now everyone can write like that. I didn’t even write that sentence. I literally just told ChatGPT to write a beautiful sentence about going to the pitcher’s mound for the championship game (well, technically I told it to write 20 sentences about that, and then I picked the best).
Beautiful writing is out — I feel the loss of this, but again we have to interact with the world as it is, not as we wish it were.
And we have to adapt to how others are interacting with it. That is the essence of game theory: to anticipate how others will react to something and then to alter how you will act in anticipation of how others will do so.
How do you stand out when every essay is beautiful?
You actually have to downplay beautiful writing. Do. Something. Different.
Because AI (for now at least) can only generate writing based on the writing it was trained on, Summit Prep has never been so busy with college essays to help students stand out from a crowded field of beautiful essays.
College Essays in 2023
Granted, I still use AI when I’m working with students. It’s incredibly helpful. Most often, I use it to help with the beginnings and endings of essays. You can paste an essay into ChatGPT and say: “Give me 20 different first sentences to this essay.” All of them will be at least decent. Usually one or two of them is golden. So AI is still a useful tool, especially if a student is a good enough writer to recognize good writing and understands what will stand out to a college admissions reader.
Students don’t need to pay for college essay assistance. But they do need to adapt. What students need more now than ever is to write well. But sound different.