Seniors, Can We ChatGPT?

Last week I wrote a piece for rising juniors about how they could consider using generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT and others in order to assist in their college search. The takeaway is that these tools are helpful for brainstorming, iterating, and sparking thought and reactions, which is essentially what the college search, application, and selection process should be.   

The responses I received via email and direct message were… mixed.  

A few were extremely appreciative– another good resource and a helpful way to open students’ minds to choices and options.  

Others were- let’s just say- less appreciative. Everything from references to an “unchecked Pandora’s Box” to some straight up vitriol. Welcome to the world of blogs and social media.  

Undeterred, this one is for high school seniors.

Here is what we know 

  1. The Common Application does not have a policy for students on using Artificial Intelligence. In fact, if you enter “AI” into their platform’s search, only a list of colleges come up: American International College, College of St. Scholastica, The Citadel, Colby College, Lawrence University. FYI- that’s a very different list than the same prompt on ChatGPT, which again points to the concept of using a variety of sources and resources in your college search, application, and selection process. 
  2. Colleges are unlikely to have uniform policies on the use of AI that cuts across their entire student body. They’ll largely leave guidance and appropriate use to individual professors and courses.  
  3. Most admission offices have not published guidance for applicants or provided public information on how AI should or should not be incorporated as you work on applications, or supplemental questions, etc.  
  4. Most high school students are using AI to some extent for personal or academic purposes.  
  5. Colleges want applications that are full of details, specifics, and insight into who you are, how you think, what you have learned, and what you care about.  

So, in hopes of bridging the void and advancing the conversation, as well as giving students, counselors, parents, and school communities (on the K-12 and higher ed side) something to react and respond to (one of AIs biggest value adds), we consulted with experts on campus- specifically Dr. David Joyner in our College of Computing- in order to develop this framework- Georgia Tech’s applicant AI guidance.  

Tools like ChatGPT, Bard and other AI-based assistance programs are powerful and valuable tools. We believe there is a place for them in helping you generate ideas, but your ultimate submission should be your own. As with all other sources, you should not copy and paste content you did not create directly into your application. Instead, if you choose to utilize AI-based assistance while working on your writing submissions for Georgia Tech, we encourage you to take the same approach you would when collaborating with people. Use it to brainstorm, edit, and refine your ideas. AI can also be a useful tool as you consider how to construct your resume in the Activities portion of the Common Application. We think AI could be a helpful collaborator, particularly when you do not have access to other assistance to help you complete your application. 

 The Activities Section. (Hat tip to my colleague Mary Tipton Woolley for her experimentation with this portion.)  

At Georgia Tech, we call this Contribution to Community. We are looking for students to demonstrated “The Three I’s”- Involvement, Impact, and Influence. We talk about this in info sessions, write about it on this blog, and even include guidance and insight, including videos on our website. Still, sometimes students struggle to think through what they’ve done and how to describe that in the boxes provided on college applications.  

Here was my prompt: can you help me put my work at Subway into the extracurricular activities into the common application  

ChatGPT response:

Absolutely! Including your work experience at Subway in the extracurricular activities section of the Common Application is a great way to showcase your skills, responsibilities, and dedication. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it: 

  • Title and Description: Start by giving your extracurricular activity a title. For example, you can write “Subway Employment” or “Subway Crew Member.” Be clear and concise. Then, write a brief description of your role and responsibilities at Subway. Highlight your key achievements and contributions. 
  • Organization Name: Mention “Subway” as the organization name. 
  • Position/Role: You can list your position or role, such as “Crew Member” or any other relevant title. 
  • Time Commitment: Specify the duration of your employment at Subway. Mention the start date and, if applicable, the end date. If you are still working there, you can write “Ongoing” or “Present.” 
  • Hours per Week: Mention the average number of hours you worked per week at Subway. This gives colleges an idea of your time management skills. 
  • Key Responsibilities: List some of your main responsibilities and tasks at Subway. Highlight skills and qualities you developed while working there. For example: 
  • Provided excellent customer service and ensured customer satisfaction. 
  • Prepared and served food items according to Subway’s standards. 
  • Operated the cash register and handled financial transactions. 
  • Maintained cleanliness and sanitation of the store. 
  • Collaborated with the team to achieve daily sales targets. 
  • Achievements: If you received any awards or recognition during your time at Subway, be sure to mention them. For example, if you were recognized as the “Employee of the Month” or received positive feedback from customers or managers. 
  • Personal Growth: Reflect on how your experience at Subway contributed to your personal growth. Did you develop communication skills, learn to work in a fast-paced environment, or improve your problem-solving abilities? Colleges value personal growth and development. 
  • Skills Gained: Highlight the skills you gained or improved through this experience. These could include customer service, teamwork, time management, responsibility, or any other relevant skills. 
  • Impact and Learning: Explain how your work at Subway influenced your academic or career goals, and what valuable lessons you learned from this experience.

And then it closed with: Remember to be honest and authentic while describing your experience at Subway. Admissions officers appreciate genuine experiences that showcase your growth and development. Including work experiences like this can demonstrate responsibility, time management, and the ability to balance academics with employment. Good luck with your application! 

 Well…thank you ChatGPT. I appreciate the integrity and encouragement!    

Perfect? Absolutely not. You are not going to have space, nor do you need to delve into “Personal Growth” or “Impact and Learning.” But the rest is helpful, accurate, and fairly thorough.  

You’ll also find these tools helpful if you are struggling to fit an activity into the boxes and character count on an application. Rephrasing, reformatting, iterating, and doing so within specific word parameters is a strength of ChatGPT. 

College Specific Supplements and Essays 

Here is our specific advice: 

In the same way you would not copy directly from any other source you may incorporate into the writing process, you should not copy and paste directly out of any AI platform or submit work that you did not originally create. Instead, approach and consider any interaction with an AI tool as a learning experience that may help you generate ideas, provide alternative phrasing options, and organize your thoughts. Ultimately, we want to read and hear your unique and valuable writing style. 

The truth is that getting started with anything is hard. Getting out the door to go to the gym or for a run, cleaning the house, or working on a project. Momentum is tough to create, and we all need help at times.  

Over the years, I have consistently heard students talk about the dreaded blinking cursor. The tyranny of the blank page. How do I get my thoughts out? How do I figure out what I want to write about or how to phrase things?

Some students have built in resources to help- parents, siblings, teachers, counselors, or other supporting adults around them who they can talk through their activities or essays with. Other students pay for that service and assistance.  

AI tools can complement those other resources and fill a void for students who may not have historically had these benefits. This is a good thing.  

What I AM saying 

ChatGPT can write an essay or supplemental response for you.   

Will it have any personal style, unique details, valuable specifics, or soul? No.  

Is copying, pasting, and submitting something you did not write ever a good idea? No.  

Could reading those before you go to sleep be a helpful substitute for melatonin? Yes. 

AND I am also saying that after reading the essay or supplemental prompts, it could be worth asking ChatGPT to generate a response that will help stimulate ideas and ways to improve and personalize your writing. Again, this is a tool, a collaboration, and a way to get started.   

What YOU can expect 

  1. Perfect grammar. These tools are built off ridiculous amounts of information. The grammar will be impeccable.
  2. Inaccuracies and generic writing. After reading what is produced, it will be very sanitized and relatively boring. It will lack specifics and it will not “sound like me.” Some of the content will simply not be accurate.  
  3. A need to revise. Re-enter the prompt adding in details and specifics. When, where, who, why?
  4. Head shaking. Wait… NO. That’s not what I meant. That’s not what happened. That’s not how I want to say it. And simultaneously, YES! That could be a good way to go, or I had not thought about putting it that way.
  5. MOMENTUM! Ok. Now you are rolling. Now your brain is working and you’re homing in on what YOU want to write about. You’ve seen the boring and impersonal way to write about your topic. Now it is time to open that Word document and take some of the lessons you’ve learned and write your own essay or supplemental response.   

As I said earlier, colleges want applications that are full of details, specifics, and insight into who you are, how you think, what you have learned, and what you care about. That’s a lot to ask. And it is a process of brainstorming, iterating, uncovering, discovering, ultimately submitting an application that tells your story. It’s a process. While AI does not make a good author, it can be a helpful stimulator, sounding board, collaborator, and momentum generator.   

Congratulations on your senior year and getting started with your college applications!     


Juniors. Can We Chat(GPT)?

If you are a rising junior, the most important thing you can be doing right now to prepare for college is recharging and heading into the school year rested and ready. Many things have changed in the college admission experience over the last few decades (and weeks), but one that has remained consistent is that your junior year is important.

Junior year courses are challenging, and often you have a heavy academic load as well. Additionally, it is the last entire grade you will complete before applying to and being considered for college (I know. I know. You come here for groundbreaking clarity). Outside the classroom, this year allows you to  enhance and impact your school and community in ways you simply could not as a freshman or sophomore.

So, while it makes sense, it does not make hearing “junior year is important” any less annoying. And since you are reading this blog, I’m guessing you’ve heard that comment increasingly as fall approaches. So, you don’t need me to reiterate or expound– and that’s not what I’m here to do.

Nope. Instead, I’m here to remind you of the other primary topic people increasingly bring up as you approach and enter junior year… the colleges you are interested in. I’ve written extensively on this blog and in my book about backing up from “where” and thinking about “why” you want to go to college.

My hope is that this summer, and certainly as the year begins, you will really consider what you most (and least) enjoy about school, your classmates, your opportunities outside the classroom, and how what you have or have not experienced informs the type of place (not the exact school) you want to go for college.

Over the years, I’ve also stressed the importance of: keeping an open mind, listening to a variety of voices, and focusing on choices and options. And this summer, after talking to colleagues, listening to podcasts, and attending a few conferences where AI is being discussed and explained, I’ve come to realize that ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can actually be a great resource helping identify and expand your college search.

Identifying and Expanding Colleges to Consider

Right now, you probably have a few colleges on your mind that you have researched, visited, or are pretty confident you will apply to. That’s perfect. As a rising junior, I am hoping that set of schools continues to grow and change. Starting broad is key and continuing to add and remove colleges from your list based on your earnest goals and interests is the best approach.

So, let’s give it a shot.

Step 1. Write down (maybe using AI enabled voice texting) five of the qualities in a college you are prioritizing. Perhaps that is location, major, size, or a few of the non-academic interests you have.  This piece may help with that.

Step 2. Go to ChatGPT (or your platform of choice) and enter those as a prompt.

Since Georgia Tech is adding a new Environmental Science degree this year, I wanted to see if AI was smart enough to pick that up, as well as the other colleges we may overlap with in the region.

Here was my prompt: provide a list of colleges in the south, offer environmental science as a major, have big sports programs, strong study abroad options, and are near cities.

Here were the suggestions:

  1. University of Florida – Gainesville, Florida
  2. University of Georgia – Athens, Georgia
  3. University of Texas at Austin – Austin, Texas
  4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  5. University of South Carolina – Columbia, South Carolina
  6. University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Virginia
  7. University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Tennessee
  8. University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  9. Clemson University – Clemson, South Carolina
  10. Auburn University – Auburn, Alabama

Hmm.. ok. I have questions.

  • What order are these in? Your guesses/theories are welcome @gtadmission
  • How are they defining “city?”
  • Why is Tech not listed?

So… I asked and got this:

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Georgia Tech does not offer a standalone Bachelor’s degree program specifically in Environmental Science. However, Georgia Tech does have several related programs and initiatives that focus on environmental and sustainability issues.

C’mon, man- it’s mid 2023!

Takeaways: This is a great tool to get the ball rolling and for helping you react to the information provided. It can help you move into more detailed research and evoke responses that are helpful and informative.

Think about this exchange like a conversation with one of your parent’s friends or colleagues about movie or book recs. Generally, they throw out something that resonates, as well as a few you can politely dismiss. And while they may not be 100% accurate in recalling plot, characters, actors, etc., the conversation helps you think about what you are interested in, not interested in—and why. Ultimately, at this point in your college search, that is what you are hoping to accomplish.

Step 3. Broaden Your Funnel. Going back to my particular list, the ten  schools suggested was a good start, but I want you to think about ways to expand in order to bring more choices and options up for consideration. For instance, on the list above, all ten are public schools. So I could “Regenerate” or refine the prompt to: include some private colleges; a different state or part of the country; schools with an admit rate over 50%, etc.

Or take your list to your counselor, a teacher, a coach, or another adult supporting you and ask them input, additions, and insight.

Step 4. Amazon Your Experience. I’m sure some of you have learned about or purchased an item, or perhaps watched a show or movie because of the suggestions that came up on your screen (Don’t raise your hand as you read). I get it.

Apply that same mindset here. Again, your goal at this point is to explore. Pick a few colleges you are already considering- or ones that came up in Steps 1-3 above- and ask for additional suggestions based on that college.

For instance, I entered: “What other colleges are similar to Holy Cross?”

And here was the response:

If you’re looking for colleges similar to Holy Cross, which is a private liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts, known for its strong undergraduate education and Catholic affiliation, here are a few institutions that share some similarities:

College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts): Since you mentioned Holy Cross, it’s worth considering similar colleges within the Holy Cross Consortium, such as:

    • Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)
    • Loyola University Maryland (Baltimore, Maryland)

Jesuit Colleges: Holy Cross is a Jesuit-affiliated institution, so you may find similarities in other Jesuit colleges that emphasize a well-rounded education and a commitment to social justice. Some examples include:

    • Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts)
    • Fordham University (New York, New York)
    • Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, California)
    • Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)

Liberal Arts Colleges: If you’re interested in the liberal arts focus of Holy Cross, you may want to explore other liberal arts colleges that provide a similar educational experience:

    • Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts)
    • Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts)
    • Colgate University (Hamilton, New York)
    • Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)

Then, it closed with: Remember that each college has its unique characteristics and strengths, so it’s essential to research and visit the campuses to determine the best fit for you.

I like it!

Step 5. Do Your Homework. (Yes, I know it’s summer). Take time to explore the suggestions, confirm the accuracy of the responses, and continue to add or remove schools from your list based on your unique priorities, needs, wants, and so on. AI is a great place to start, brainstorm, and help move you along, so you can go deeper or add detail to your conversations and considerations.

The admission experience (like college and life itself) is about using a variety of resources, considering information and doing your research, as well as doing some legit soul searching, in order to arrive at an informed opinion and an ultimate direction for decision making. So, iterate. Your college list is not meant to be static.

Bonus prompt: “can you recommend a few places to eat lunch near Georgia Tech?”


Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta):

  • The Varsity: An Atlanta institution serving classic American fast food, including burgers and hot dogs.
  • The Flying Biscuit Cafe: Offers Southern-inspired dishes, including biscuits, breakfast items, and comfort food.
  • Antico Pizza Napoletana: Renowned for its authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas.

OK. ChatGPT, I see you. Not bad. Not bad at all! Almost makes up for not giving Tech its due on Environmental Science. 

Let’s Get A Few Things Straight (about College Admission)

There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about how much has changed in college admission.


But just like during and following the pandemic, much remains constant. So, let’s get a few things straight.

College Admission is Not Fair. I know some groups may claim to have brought this about with the proverbial wave of a wand or banging of a gavel, but the truth is that no system or process is (or ever will be) fair or perfect. Humans run processes. Humans are imperfect, flawed, and operate in a broken world.

Do not confuse quantitative measures with fairness. I remember when Georgia Tech operated on a purely formulaic basis. We recalculated GPAs so that everyone had a max GPA of 4.0. We did not consider the rigor of the high school, performance of past graduates, or a student’s grade trends. We considered Honors, Magnet, Gifted, AP, IB, Dual Enrollment to all be rigorous and each received an extra .5 bump- again with a max GPA of 4. We effectively “let out the slack” from the top until we had admitted the number of students we needed based on historic yield models.

I’m guessing many of you are already poking holes in how FUBAR this model is– and can likely channel some of the complaints and questions we’d get…

I have all APs and my classmate only took honors level. You’re weighting that the same?

But I had all As in a full IB diploma program and my “friend” only took general courses. Are you telling me that we both end up with a max 4.0?

I made a 1300 on one take with no outside help. My neighbor made a 1200 the first time and then after thousands of dollars in private tutoring ended up with a 1350. That’s going to be the difference? He’s got lower grades than me!!

At the time, I was not the director, but my name was on admission letters for students whose last name started with A-C.  As a result, even though I did not agree with how we were making decisions, I was left to defend them.

One of the most memorable cases was a girl in North Georgia who was the valedictorian of her high school. She had taken the toughest classes, made the highest grades, and accomplished all of this while juggling a 25-hour a week job at a local restaurant to help support her family. She was not admitted because her SAT score was 10 points below our threshold that year– 10 points. Meanwhile, we admitted three other kids from that school who had slightly lower grades, less rigorous courses, and less impact on their community, etc. Fair? Hell no. In fact, I can still remember talking to her mom on the phone and having to suppress my own frustration.

Over the years, we have continued to evolve our file review process to make it more contextual and holistic. Academically, we look closely at grade trends, course choice, rigor, high school history, etc. We do not draw hard lines on test scores and we use macro data to help understand student testing context.

And, of course, a great deal of time is spent in committee looking at a student’s involvement, impact, and influence. Still, I’d be the first to say that neither our process, nor any other college’s in the world, is perfectly fair– it’s not possible or designed to be. Instead it’s designed to be comprehensive and thorough, but fair….NO.

There has been a lot of talk lately about checkboxes on applications. Here is one you won’t see on an application but you need to mentally agree to:

“By submitting this application, I understand I may not agree with the decision I receive, the timeline on which I receive that information, or the rationale I get for why the decision was made.”

Mission Drives Admission. Think of your high school. It exists for a purpose. Maybe it’s a public school and is located to intentionally serve kids from your part of the city or county. Maybe you attend a private or religious school. Again, it was founded for a reason and is attempting to attract and enroll students and families centered on that mission. Companies, community centers, organizations… they all have a mission and are making decisions geared toward moving that forward.

As a public school, Georgia Tech’s goal is to enroll 60% of our undergraduates from our state. This means we prioritize Georgians in our entire process. We attend more recruiting events in Georgia than out of state; we set deadlines earlier for our residents, and inform GA applicants of their decisions ahead of non-residents. Tuition is much lower for Georgia kids and our admit rate is three to four times higher for Georgia students than it is for non-Peach staters.

In an attempt to enroll students from all across our state, we have programs like the Georgia Tech Scholars Program for valedictorians and salutatorians. Are there cases where the number three (or thirteen) student at one school is as strong as the salutatorian from another… and yet decisions vary? Yes. Is the average SAT/ACT from out of state/country higher than it is for Georgia students? Yes. Is mission driving admission? Y.E.S.

A college you apply to may be trying to grow a particular major. That is going to influence their admission decisions. Another school is looking to enroll more students (or less) from your region of the country or nation. That will have an impact.

The truth is you are not always going to know these things. What you do know that is institutional missions – not your particular test, GPA, number of APs, or selected essay topic- drives admission.

What does all of this mean for you? 

1- Apply to a balanced list of colleges. If your current college list only includes schools with admit rates under 20%, you need to re-think. Applying to more schools with single digit admit rates does not increase your odds of being admitted to one of them. That’s just not how it works.

2- Celebrate your wins. Every time you receive an offer of admission, you need to pause, celebrate, reflect on your hard work, and thank the people around you who’ve made that possible, i.e. friends, family, teachers, counselors, coaches, and so on. As always, hug your mama!

3- Control what you can control. Admission is not fair. And mission drives admission. You cannot control where you get in or how much money they offer you in financial aid. You can control how you receive and process admission decisions. These are not value judgments or predictions of future success. Don’t over index.

You can control how  you treat people around you. You cannot control the decisions made in admissions offices you’ll never enter, but you can control the decisions you make in the rooms you enter everyday– your living room, classroom, etc. I hope you’ll make that your mission. Fair?