Should Students Let ChatGPT Help Them Write Their College Essays? – The New York Times

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Student Opinion
If so, how? Tell us what you are thinking, and what practical and ethical questions these new A.I. tools raise for you.
Hey, ChatGPT, can you help me write my college admissions essays?
Absolutely! Please provide me with the essay prompts and any relevant information about yourself, your experiences, and your goals.

Teachers: We also have a lesson plan that accompanies this Student Opinion forum.
Are you working on a college application essay? Have you sought help from an adult? How about from an A.I. chatbot like ChatGPT or Bard? Were either useful? If so, how?
The New York Times recently published two articles about the questions these new tools are raising for the college process. One explores how A.I. chatbots are upending essay-writing. The other details what happened when a reporter fed application questions from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth to different bots.
Here’s how the first article, “Ban or Embrace? Colleges Wrestle With A.I.-Generated Admissions Essays,” explains what’s going on:
The personal essay has long been a staple of the application process at elite colleges, not to mention a bane for generations of high school students. Admissions officers have often employed applicants’ essays as a lens into their unique character, pluck, potential and ability to handle adversity. As a result, some former students say they felt tremendous pressure to develop, or at least concoct, a singular personal writing voice.
But new A.I. tools threaten to recast the college application essay as a kind of generic cake mix, which high school students may simply lard or spice up to reflect their own tastes, interests and experiences — casting doubt on the legitimacy of applicants’ writing samples as authentic, individualized admissions yardsticks.
The piece continues:
Some teachers said they were troubled by the idea of students using A.I. tools to produce college essay themes and texts for deeper reasons: Outsourcing writing to bots could hinder students from developing important critical thinking and storytelling skills.
“Part of the process of the college essay is finding your writing voice through all of that drafting and revising,” said Susan Barber, an Advanced Placement English literature teacher at Midtown High School, a public school in Atlanta. “And I think that’s something that ChatGPT would be robbing them of.”
In August, Ms. Barber assigned her 12th-grade students to write college essays. This week, she held class discussions about ChatGPT, cautioning students that using A.I. chatbots to generate ideas or writing could make their college essays sound too generic. She advised them to focus more on their personal views and voices.
Other educators said they hoped the A.I. tools might have a democratizing effect. Wealthier high school students, these experts noted, often have access to resources — alumni parents, family friends, paid writing coaches — to help them brainstorm, draft and edit their college admissions essays. ChatGPT could play a similar role for students who lack such resources, they said, especially those at large high schools where overworked college counselors have little time for individualized essay coaching.
The second article, “We Used A.I. to Write Essays for Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Here’s How It Went,” includes this example:
Dartmouth requires applicants to explain why they want to attend the college.
I primed the A.I. chatbots by asking them to write in the voice of a high school senior who was hoping to double major at Dartmouth in computer science and biology.
HuggingChat churned out text with trite words and phrases — “passion,” “meaningful impact,” “rigorous academic programs” — that seemed to me like the kind of stilted formal language a high school student might imagine a college admissions reviewer would want to read.
I asked Bard to minimize the clichés and add more specific details about Dartmouth’s computing department. But it still produced some of the same standard college application language — “renowned,” “impact” — as HuggingChat.
Bard also wrote that I was hoping to study with Leslie Kaelbling, whom the chatbot described as an A.I. researcher at Dartmouth. That could have caused problems if I were a high school senior and had submitted the essay Bard had fabricated as part of my Dartmouth application. Professor Kaelbling, you see, teaches at M.I.T.
My takeaway: high school seniors hoping to stand out may need to do wholesale rewrites of the texts they prompt A.I. chatbots to generate. Or they could just write their own — chatbot-free — admissions essays from scratch.
Students, read both articles, and then tell us:
Do you think you would use a chatbot to help you write your personal essay for college? If so, how? For example, would you ask it to suggest topics? Help structure your writing? Generate a rough draft? Edit?
If you have already used A.I. to write or edit a personal essay, what did you think of the result? Was the experience useful to you? To what extent did you, like the Times reporter, find the output generic and clichéd? Did the bot make any errors? How, if at all, did you use the results?
Some, like the teacher quoted in the first article, worry that letting A.I. help with your essays robs you of the chance to develop your personal voice. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Do you think there is value in drafting and revising writing without help? What has that process been like for you in the past? What have you learned from it?
Some people believe that these tools will help students who don’t have easy access to college counselors or writing coaches. Do you agree? Do these chatbots make the application process more fair for students with fewer resources?
Do any of the colleges you are applying to have a policy on the use of these tools? If so, what do you think of those guidelines?
What do you think is, or should be, the purpose of a college essay? Can it really show colleges who you are? If so, is it ethical to let a bot — or even another human — help?
Now, return to the questions we started with: Should students let ChatGPT help them write their college essays? If so, how? Did your answers change as you read the related articles or looked at other students’ responses? Are you left with any questions — whether practical or ethical — about the role of this new technology?
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.
Katherine Schulten has been a Learning Network editor since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach. More about Katherine Schulten