Last week I had the opportunity to answer this prompt in a Higher Ed Dive article, along with a few friends and colleagues around the country: In 150-200 words, what is one admissions trend you expect to see in 2023?
Here was my take:
In the year ahead, due to the emergence and prevalence of artificial intelligence software such as ChatGPT, I expect more colleges to either drop their admission essay altogether or expand the format through which students can convey their voice and demonstrate their ability to articulate their opinions and interest.
This could take the form of proctored writing samples, graded essays from their high school, a rise in the use of unscripted interviews, or various mediums and platforms for students and their supporters to submit information, i.e. voice recorded recommendations or video elevator pitches.
Removing barriers to apply and simplifying the application process in general will be particularly important due to the pending Supreme Court case on affirmative action, and the desire of colleges and universities to preserve a diverse applicant pool. To that end, expect more colleges to make announcements ending legacy preferences and launching transfer pathway programs geared toward historically underrepresented students.
The first half of my response (AI, essays, broader submission mediums) elicited a number of emails and social media messages which fell into one of two camps: A: You are wrong. B: I hope you are wrong. The good news for those of you who disagree is that you don’t have to look far back on this very blog to see my many errant prognostications.
Normally, I don’t mind being wrong, but in this case I hope I’m not. Here’s why- and here’s what I hope we will see.
Ask most admission counselors what they’re looking for in an application essay and you will get some version of “we just want to hear the student’s voice.” Well, let’s solve for that? The truth is that many of these essays are already overly sanitized or professionally tailored/ tampered with already. I hope the Common Application and Coalition Application will modernize their platforms and integrate technology that allows us to more directly hear and/or see students, and the adults that support them.
Allowing for voice recorded responses, or short video clips, is the student’s voice. Yes, I understand this would mean parameters and controls, so another cottage industry does not emerge but stick with me for a moment. Changing the medium of delivery to audio/video – or at least providing it as an option- gives a much better sense of how a student would engage in the classroom or on campus than the essay. Importantly, if these are limited to a minute or so, it does not add time to review for colleges- and could be a welcome reprieve for the tired eyes of admission readers. (Companies like Initial View are offering this for students).
Same for school counselors or teachers. While they could still send written recommendations, if that was their preference (and use AI at will), the truth is most American students attend public schools where counselor: student ratios are an utter travesty at several hundred to one. My hope is we can make it easier for these folks by allowing them to advocate for their students in mediums they are comfortable with in 2023, i.e., voice/video. I don’t want a student’s boss from Subway having to login and submit a rec letter, but I think there would be value in hearing them say, “she’s the only person outside of my family who I allow to have the keys to the store.”
Several folks who messaged me “could not see colleges doing away with the essay.” Maybe you are right. Maybe higher ed really moves that slowly and the essays will persist in current form a good bit longer. But AI is here, and students will be using it during their K12 and college admission experience. As a result, I agree with the notion that ChatGPT and others will move students more to editing mode than author mode. Ultimately, if a student wants to use AI to create their prompt responses, that’s their choice.
With that said, while my prediction is some schools will drop the conventional admission essay altogether, my hope Common Application and Coalition Application will at least install software that screens for AI use and displays that result to students prior to submission. This will give students a chance to decide if they want to edit further or proceed, especially since colleges maintaining essays could very well run similar scans on their side post-submission.
My biggest hope is the Supreme Court will not overturn decades of national precedent and will continue to allow colleges to responsibly use race as “one of many factors” to recruit students, make admission decisions, award scholarships, and more. (More on why providing more data not less is important in holistic review from my Fisher vs. Texas blog).
However, my prediction is SCOTUS will make affirmative action illegal and we will see a downturn in underrepresented undergradaute student enrollments, particularly at state flagships and selective privates- the American higher education experience will be further devalued as a result. And even with the reduced percentages of black and brown students on many college campuses, we won’t see a reduction in the number of entitled, privileged people complaining about not getting into Stanvard each April.
Agree, disagree, forward, or delete—I appreciate you reading. An exchange with people from various backgrounds showing up to listen, respect, and learn from one another is how we add value and make progress…. I just hope the Supreme Court agrees.