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. 

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Executive Director of Strategic Student Access at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college