If you are a high school counselor reading this, THANK YOU! Yes- for reading. But more importantly for all that you do for students and your school community. In addition to close friends who are counselors, and my two plus decades working alongside counselors, I also have two kids of my own in K-12, so I am intimately familiar with the many hats you wear, the pressures you face, the increasing needs, and complexity of issues students bring to school every day. THANK YOU!
While I cannot create more hours in your day, clone you, or hire additional counselors in your school (though you’re welcome to forward this to your principal or head of school as an endorsement), I do believe AI can be part of the solution in making you more efficient, effective, and therefore available to students, this year.
A few weeks ago, I wrote this for high school juniors. As a counselor, a big part of your job is providing students with perspective, encouragement, resources, and motivation. I know you are constantly looking for ways to help them keep an open mind, consider a variety of voices, and focus on choices and options. Over the last few months, I have come to realize that ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can be a great resource for helping students identify and expand their college search.
If you have not already done so, take time this week to sit down and explore ChatGPT for yourself. Try entering this prompt: “Provide a list of other colleges like (insert school here).”
Since I went for a long trail run on Berry College’s campus (the largest campus in the world, FYI), that’s what I entered into ChatGPT.
And here’s what I received back:
Berry College is a private liberal arts college located in Mount Berry, Georgia, known for its picturesque campus and strong focus on student engagement, work experience, and community service. If you’re looking for colleges with similar characteristics, you might consider the following…
And then it provided me these schools with a description of each.
Sewanee: The University of the South, Warren Wilson College, College of the Atlantic, Berea College, Eckerd College, Augustana College, Rhodes College, Centre College.
Solid geographic diversity, varying rationale for connection to Berry (from academic programs to focus on sustainability, to hand on learning, and so on.
The power of AI is its ability to brainstorm, iterate, and scrape data or content quickly. My hope is you will consider integrating the AI tools into your conversations with and suggested resources for students as they search for colleges, broaden and narrow their list, or even plan their trips to colleges.
As you work with your seniors, this blog may also prove helpful.
At this point, very few colleges have published formal policies or guidance on how their applicants should or should not use AI in applying to college.
Similarly, there is nothing on the Common Application addressing ChatGPT or other tools, and based on historical decision making, I don’t expect that to come in the near future.
Clearly, if your high school has a uniform policy on how AI is to be used in your school’s classes, you use that as a touchstone for your advice to students applying to college and writing essays this fall.
But if you are trying to determine how to address AI in your newsletters, programs, or web content, the best place to start this by experimenting for yourself.
After my last two blogs I heard from a few school counselors. Here is some of that insight.
“I taught an essay writing workshop to a small group of our seniors and introduced them to how they can use ChatGPT responsibly with brainstorming and fleshing out ideas. I walked them through a brainstorming exercise where ChatGPT posed relevant questions about their chosen topics. I loved seeing the lightbulbs in their head go off. Subsequently, a couple of seniors followed with me after playing around with ChatGPT to help them get a jumpstart on their opening paragraphs. It’s apparent that they feel a bit hesitant about using AI beyond its usual application in subjects like math tutoring, so it will be interesting to see their comfort level take shape.” Randy Mills, Greenhill School, Dallas, TX
“At first, I feared the way AI would change the college admission landscape. But when I saw how it could help students find their words (if used appropriately), I changed my mind. The students I help use ChatGPT to create effective descriptions of activities, and to start the dreaded essays when they can’t get past the blinking cursor. I always feel it’s easier to edit than create for many of my students. ChatGPT creates something they can edit and enhance, without being stuck with “getting started”. Many outstanding students have difficulty putting their thoughts into written expression. ChatGPT allows them to see their thoughts, then modify them into a working essay (or activity description!)” Meg Scheid, Gwinnet School of Math Science and Technology
My Rec for Your Recs
I absolutely think you should experiment with AI as you write your recommendation letters this fall. The same advice applies to these letters as I provided for seniors writing essays. This is not a simple cut and paste, but instead a great tool for getting started, rephrasing, or discovering different ways to frame the content you are attempting to incorporate.
Having done this personally for a few colleagues this summer, and after hearing from several college professors endorse the practice, I think you will find entering a few of your ideas or student provided details and specifics and then revising or “regenerating” in ChatGPT could save you precious time.
My co-author and friend Brennan Barnard at the Khan Lab School in California puts it this way, “AI can simplify the counselor recommendation process by quickly synthesizing and effectively communicating the many sources of information we as counselors gather about students. In truth, college admission officers are scanning recommendations for context and color on students and beautifully written prose about individual students is a thing of the past. We can feed AI the personalized details we have from getting to know students and save us time that can be spent one on one with them.”
This is spot on advice. At the end of the day, you have a myriad of demands on your time and a significant case load of students. Yes- rec letters are important. But contrary to the Reddit rabbit holes, YouTuber conspiracy theories, or the predictable paranoid parent in April, they are not the reason a student does or does not get admitted.
Good recommendation letters add color to an application. They often describe how you have seen a student grow, contribute, or impact the people and community around them. Helpful letters touch on what makes a student interesting, unique, or compelling. Taking your knowledge of a student, incorporating details you have gathered from them or their teachers and coaches, and then allowing AI to help you craft the letter could be a valuable assist.
A/B test. Write five letters from scratch and another five by starting with or iterating with ChatGPT.
Sample. Have a counselor or teacher colleague read a few of your letters and attempt to decipher whether or not AI contributed to your final product.
Time yourself. What is the time difference from start to finish using and not using AI?
Conclude and report. Share your results with me or online. Am I way off here? Are there additional tips and insight you would add that can help your counselor colleagues?
All in favor say, “AI.”
Even if you disagree with everything I am suggesting, I still say THANK YOU. As the year begins, please know how important your work is and how fortunate students are to have people like you in the school building. On behalf of my fellow admission professionals, as well as other parents who entrust our most valuable asset to you each day- THANK YOU!