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.
Here is what we know
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Most high school students are using AI to some extent for personal or academic purposes.
- 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
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
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
- Perfect grammar. These tools are built off ridiculous amounts of information. The grammar will be impeccable.
- 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.
- A need to revise. Re-enter the prompt adding in details and specifics. When, where, who, why?
- 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.
- 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!