The Right Way to Use AI to Ace Your College Admissions Essay

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Keith Nickolaus

EdPro Communications, Crimson Education

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18 min read

The Right Way to Use AI to Ace Your College Admissions Essay

Introduction:

If you’re trying to figure out how to write the best college admissions essay possible — and the “right” way to use AI in the process — congratulations on taking the next step in your college application journey. And, you probably know that the essay ranks pretty high when it comes to admissions decisions, right? So, it makes sense to use every tool and avenue at your disposal to ace the essay… Which brings us to today’s topic: why it’s almost essential to use the newest and best AI tools out there to make the writing process richer, faster, more fun and creative, and more effective. In this post we’ll cover various AI tools, especially ChatGPT, along with some other AI tools that may be far better for the final revision steps. We’ll explore what these tools can and can’t do, how they work, how to use them, and we’ll cover the ethical ins and outs.

AI and Essay Writing — Overview

Because AI is powerful but also very new, it’s getting lots of attention, both good and bad… If you’re applying to a top college, it’s a good guess you’re all about embracing technology, but you have questions or doubts when it comes to using tools such as ChatGPT.

Maybe you’re worried about the limits of using AI for a very personal essay format, or about ethical choices,because you’ve heard some schools have banned students from using ChatGPT for academic writing.

In this blog post we’ll cut through the noise and explore the benefits and risks of using AI tools.

You’ll see that embracing AI doesn’t have to be about cheating, short cuts, or any machine writing your essay for you…

In fact, as we explore different AI tools and ideas for using them effectively for a college admissions essay, we’re going to keep an unwavering focus on how these resources can help you craft an inventive, memorable, and authentic college essay, because at this point in your journey there’s a lot at stake, especially if you’re applying to the more competitive schools…

Introducing ChatGPT: Your Powerful New Writing Wizard…

Before we get into how to use ChatGPT, and the right way — to amplify your writing while avoiding downsides and risks — let’s quickly take a look at what ChatGPT is, what it does, and how it can be just like having a great writing assistant write at your fingertips (oops, we mean right at your fingertips…).

What Is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a powerful language model that can generate human-like text and respond to an almost infinite variety of requests or instructions — called prompts — that make it a virtual secret weapon for helping you supercharge your creative process and power through the writing process.

But before we go any further, let’s be clear: you don’t have to use AI tools to write your essay… If writing is your passion, you may be confident already about your own approach and your own skills…

But for too long, too many bright and able students have struggled with the process of putting pen to paper and thoughts into words. For most people, let’s just say it, writing is anything but exhilarating. It’s more like a drawn out struggle that even after all the effort and stress still leaves them wondering if they’ve really succeeded in the end or not…

The pain is real… Technology to the rescue!

Embracing AI tools not only helps you learn about new forms of game-changing technology, but it has the power to make you a much happier and more creative writer! And, before we’re done, we’ll see that ChatGPT is only one tool to consider and can be effectively combined with others that are more specialized and widely used by professional writers.

ChatGPT Is Prompt-Driven AI With Versatile Applications

ChatGPT is designed to respond to your questions, instructions, commands, or requests — referred to as prompts — making it just like having your own personal writing coach.

Without your prompts and your prompting, ChatGPT is merely a silent bystander! This means you’re always in control, and it also means it’s helpful to understand how to formulate effective prompts and tailor them to the kind of writing help you need for different steps in the writing process.

Imagine for example, you’re just stuck. You don’t know where to start, or you have writer’s block... Or, forget writing anything… you’re just trying to figure out how to approach the initial brainstorming! Guess what, ChatGPT really can help!

Some people think ChatGPT just writes conventional text. The fact is it can be used to get ideas, to circumvent writer’s block, to do research, and even generate your own writing templates or models…

But, before we get into some specific tips and tricks for using ChatGPT and explore some other powerful AI tools, let’s get real about the practical and ethical concerns you’re probably wondering about: whether AI tools really can help you — especially with this highly personal content — and whether it’s even ethical to use AI for college essays

The Poison of Cheating vs. the Pearls of Integrity, Creativity, and Authenticity

ChatGPT has no ethical understanding, only humans do (for now at least!).

And, long before ChatGPT, there were plenty of ways to cheat: you could ask a friend to write your college essay for you, pay someone to write your essay professionally, or find sample essays online and plagiarize them…

Cheating with ChatGPT — Easy as 1-2-3…

It’s really the same with ChatGPT. You can choose to cheat, just like before. Here’s how: you prompt ChatGPT as needed so it spits out an artificial essay which you cut and paste right into the submission pane for your prospective college, and press submit! Easy as 1-2-3…?

Maybe, but maybe not — especially if the result is a mediocre essay with little that’s genuine and authentic, or one that stands out not as being unique and creative but as being machine generated!

For both practical and ethical reasons, cheating is probably the last thing you want to use AI for!

The fact is cheating has always been the easy way, even if it seems easier now than before.

And remember… whenever and however you cheat others, the person you’re cheating the most may actually be YOU…

That’s right, you’re cheating yourself out of the opportunity for introspection, for building deeper self-awareness, for learning how to articulate in a public forum who you are, what you stand for, and how your values drive your decision making — hmmm… sounds like valuable qualities to develop and use in leadership roles too…

You get the point: to cheat or not to cheat — it’s not about chatbots or parsing each school’s student honor code… It’s really the same as before ChatGPT — cheating has always been and continues to be about YOU and about YOUR choices.

Everyday offers new opportunities to choose poorly or choose wisely: to sell yourself short or to grow and challenge yourself, to embrace technology or stick with the old and familiar… And, it’s not just about one essay, you’ll continue facing and making choices like these everyday in college and beyond.

The other very practical risk of “cheating” with ChatGPT is you’re probably not going to get an essay that really stands out, especially at highly selective colleges and universities! ChatGPT just doesn’t have the nuanced modeling that makes it anything close to a substitute for a real author, especially for this kind of highly subjective and personalized content!

When it comes to the right stuff of memorable personal essay writing, only you can create that through your own reflective, step-by-step creative process.

How to Put ChatGPT to Work for Your College Essay

There’s lots of creative ways to use ChatGPT… And we’ll show you examples in a minute. But we encourage you to experiment with your own prompts and find your own tricks later on, once you get familiar with how it works.

In the meantime here are some of the many ways you can use ChatGPT to work through the writing process:

  • Jumpstart your brainstorming or get unstuck anytime during the writing process
  • Get ideas for different ways to structure your essay or for how to start or end your essay
  • Create your own relevant sentence starters or paragraph templates
  • Explore ideas for creating a narrative style and voice that really fits your personality
  • Use ChatGPT samples that you don’t like as another way to home in on the personal look and feel you want to impart to your essay

The Magic of Prompts

Getting something from ChatGPT always starts with a “prompt.”

  1. Prompts can take the form of questions, commands, requests, or instructions

  2. Prompts can include multiple layers of instructions and commands that serve as guidelines for what kind of content you want ChatGPT to generate, including guidelines for type of writing (genre), format (such as list, business letter, essay, or blog post…), voice, style, tone, length, and so forth.

  3. The interface is fairly intuitive and conversational, so you will need to put some thought into what instructions or prompts you use, but you can use natural and direct conversational language when typing the prompts

Choosing What to Put in A Prompt

In the most basic prompt, you’ll probably at least want to give ChatGPT two essential guidelines for:

  1. WHAT ACTION to perform, and

  2. WHAT FORMAT to use

    Sample Prompt:

    Share ideas for how to format or structure a college application essay. Use a bullet list format.

In this prompt we’re asking ChatGPT to share ideas for formatting a college application essay and to use a bullet list format so we can see a skeleton of the structure, or limit it to key headings.

Here’s a slightly abbreviated version of the content a simple prompt like this produces:

Sure! Here are the main bullet points for formatting a college application essay:

  • Introduction
  • Thesis Statement
  • Body Paragraphs
  • Anecdotes and Examples
  • Reflection and Growth
  • Academic and Extracurricular Achievements
  • Passions and Interests
  • Future Goals
  • Conclusion
  • Formatting and Style

The list on its own doesn’t have much immediate value, and it’s a little nonsensical, probably because “formating,” the word we chose for the prompt, can mean different things. Also sticking a “thesis statement” at the beginning of your personal essay may not be the most effective or creative approach, especially if you decide to use more of a narrative structure…

Nonetheless, thinking a little outside the box, let’s consider what you can use the list for:

  • Getting unstuck — select items from the list to use as prompts for jumpstarting a really productive brainstorming session
  • Weighing alternative essay structures — such as deciding if you want to evoke and combine, in a montage structure for example, some significant “anecdotes and examples” as a way to add authenticity and context to “inner reflections on personal growth” that you want to share with the reader
  • Using the item “thesis statement” as a creative prompt in order to challenge yourself to clearly articulate a main idea that will unify your essay: If I had to write a thesis statement for an essay that’s about ME, what would it be?…How would I sum it up in one or two sentences?…

Let’s look at one more example of a creative way to use ChatGPT for help with a different stage of the writing process.

In this example, in addition to telling ChatGPT WHAT ACTION to perform and WHAT FORMAT to use, let’s add instructions for VOICE, STYLE, and LENGTH.

Sample Prompt:

Write about the influence of a wise teacher who taught the value of > curiosity. Use an informal style and a personal narrative voice. Make > it 200 words or less.

What you’ll get will be entirely made up and have no facts related to your own personal experience, of course. So your first question might be: what good is this going to do me?

Truth be told, ChatGPT created a mostly artificial chunk of writing in response to the prompt we gave it. But, the text can be quickly edited and turned into a handy writing template.

In this instance, because our prompt guided for something like an anecdote, the template in question provides ideas for structuring and narrating an anecdote from your life and for connecting it to your own personal reflection or insight. Very on point for a personal narrative.

With a little editing, the anecdote template looked like this:

When I was…. there was a teacher named ….. He was like a …. who always …. On one day that I still remember, he walked into our class with a … and > said to the class “Today …” Inside the box were … during the rest of the class we …. What surprised me most was … By the end I realized …. > Thanks to Mr. Anderson … I …

Not the most eye-popping or authentic-sounding writing, but the template does give you a solid if basic idea of how to concisely narrate a past personal experience that’s connected to a larger personal reflection or insight.

And, if you don’t like the voice and style, that’s useful too! Knowing how you don’t want your own essay to sound can often get you closer to figuring out what voice and style do match your personality!

Remember, you can also prompt your virtual assistant to generate a new version, with or without modifying the prompt.

For example, if the voice seems too simplistic, experiment with adding new guidelines to your prompts, such as: Imitate the writing style of a student writing a personal essay for a college English class.

As you can see, you can get pretty creative with the prompts — so have some fun, but don't get carried away, you have an essay to finish!

What ChatGPT Can’t Do

As you can see ChatGPT could make it easy to cheat, but using ChatGPT isn’t the same as cheating or anything close to it.

Using ChatGPT the right ways is about embracing fast-paced technology innovation, just like you do for most of your other academic work: to help you animate the writing process, get unstuck and get new ideas more quickly, and to build your repertoire of writing formats and styles while you’re at it!

But let’s not forget to talk about what ChatGPT can’t do

It won’t be very successful at artfully narrating and connecting genuinely personal life experiences and circumstances into a memorable personal statement. It will have limitations when it comes to articulating the personal, underlying motives and values guiding your college, major, and career preferences.

Sure, you can add more layers to your prompt to get more targeted content, but ChatGPT just doesn’t have the depth of human experience to appreciate and seize upon nuances of context, culture, emotion, and language that will make your essay sparkle because your personality and identity shine through in a ways that are genuine, vulnerable, and unique.

The Power of Experiential Insights: The Role of College Admissions Counselors (the Human Kind)

College admissions counselors are also “pre-trained” — kind of like their AI counterparts — to evaluate language forms and models in a college admissions essay! Of course counselors are not machines, but they have capabilities of their own that are a lot like advanced machine learning — knowledge and experience!

Although AI is awesome, getting human input for your essay is also strongly recommended. Your college counselor can offer support that is empathic, nuanced, and based on mature understanding and professional experiences and insights.

Hopefully you’re getting the bigger picture now: a tool like ChatGPT has great features, but also some hard-stop limitations. AI can never (for today at least!) be an adequate substitute for human experience and insight!

That said, ChatGPT is only one among a number of virtual assistants out there.

So, in addition to ChatGPT, and in addition to qualified humans, like a college and career counselor or academic advisor, you can also take advantage of more highly specialized AI writing platforms. These tools can be especially useful during the revision phase, when your draft has a lot of content and structure but you’re looking for more nuanced and targeted feedback to get you over the finish line.

Write Like a Pro — Specialized and Genre-Specific AI Copy Editing Tools

When you’ve reached the revision phase, you may want to use AI-powered tools trained for more specific use cases.

Powerful Tools for Feedback on the Mechanics of Your Essay

You can boost your own late-stage revision and proofreading prowess with high-performance tools designed specifically for helping you thoroughly review all of the mechanics of your writing — stuff like syntax, usage, punctuation, and spelling…

Don’t think these tools are only for inexperienced writers. In fact, these tools are used most widely by highly skilled writers — writers who understand the need for input from an outside copy editor, even if it’s a machine that’s doing the work!

Two of the most widely used tools are 1. Grammarly and 2. Ginger.

Both tools offer a basic version that’s free, and a premium version for paid subscription.

These tools have powerful features that help you detect grammar errors, imprecise or clumsy phrasing, run-on sentences, spelling errors, usage errors, and more.

Here’s the point: there’s a lot riding on your admissions essay, and even professional writers routinely get either a human or an AI tool to help them review all of the mechanics of their writing...

You probably don’t need a professional copy editor to help you complete your own college essay, but tools like Grammarly or Ginger and other tools out there like them, are a fast and inexpensive way to get exactly the kind of feedback you’d get from a diligent and highly qualified copy editor!

And, as with ChatGPT, remember, you’re still in control! These copy editing tools have a simple and intuitive interface. They highlight possible corrections or improvements, helping you take a fresh look at the mechanics of your writing, but leaving it up to you to make any final changes.

To the Next Level! — Genre-specific AI Writing Tools

One thing that tools like ChatGPT and Grammarly have in common is that they’re designed to help all writers, with virtually every kind of writing.

This makes them popular and versatile, but can you imagine a tool optimized for genre-specific editing feedback — even one designed for personal essay writing in particular, or exclusively for college admissions essays?

Imagine too that the same tool would give you feedback on mechanics, structure, and content?

Tools like this actually do exist, but they’re too targeted to have a big user base, but if you’re writing a college admissions essay they can be a perfect match.

One genre-specific AI tool that’s optimized for college admissions essays alone is called AdmitYogi AI Essay Revision Tool.

If you want an AI co-pilot that will get into the nitty-gritty nuances of the college admissions essay format AdmitYogi AI Essay Revision Tool can do that. It even gives you some options to align the feedback with specific types of common college essay prompts! It's almost like you’ve got your own college counselor looking over your shoulder at your essay draft with you.

AdmitYogi AI Essay Revision Tool is an AI platform that combines features of ChatGPT and Grammarly along with more advanced AI “training” for targeted essay feedback in a college admissions context.

You don’t need to download anything because it’s all accessible online 24/7, making it simple and convenient. Right now, we're in our beta testing phase, which means you can use all of Admityogi Essay's features absolutely for free!

Again, as with the other tools, you’re in charge. AdmitYogi AI Essay Revision Tool gives you feedback on the three critical components of your essay, coded in a way that’s easy to follow, using natural language, and guided by actual rubrics constructed by knowledgeable admissions experts.

Over The Finish Line and Beyond…

When you combine the best AI has to offer along with some human insights from trustworthy family, friends, and counselors, you’re almost sure to produce an exceptional admissions essay and get results beyond your initial expectations.

That’s the way it should be.

After all, by doing your research, embracing technology, and taking advantage of input from both bots and humans, you’re already demonstrating the kind of resourcefulness that will serve you well in college… And, you should be rewarded with a stellar essay for your efforts — an essay that should definitely help you get into your top-choice schools!

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