‘A real opportunity’: how ChatGPT could help college applicants

  • August 27, 2023
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With the end of affirmative action, generative AI could ‘democratize’ admissions by giving students who don’t have tutors or counselors a leg up

Chatter about artificial intelligence mostly falls into three basic categories: anxious uncertainty (will it take our jobs?); existential dread (will it kill us all?); and simple pragmatism (can AI write my lesson plan?). In this hazy, liminal, pre-disruption moment, there is little consensus as to whether generative AI is a tool or a threat, and few rules for using it properly. For students, this uncertainty feels especially profound. Bans on AI and claims that using it constitutes cheating are now giving way to concerns that AI use is inevitable and probably should be taught in school. Now, as a new college admissions season kicks into gear, many prospective applicants are wondering: can AI write my personal essay? Should it?

Ever since the company OpenAI released ChatGPT to the public in November, students have been testing the limits of chatbots – generative AI tools powered by language-based algorithms – which can complete essay assignments within minutes. The results tend to be grammatically impeccable but intellectually bland, rife with cliche and misinformation. Yet teachers and school administrators still struggle to separate the more authentic wheat from the automated chaff. Some institutions are investing in AI detection tools, but these are proving spotty at best. In recent tests, popular AI text detectors wrongly flagged articles by non-native English speakers, and some suggested that AI wrote the US constitution. In July OpenAI quietly pulled AI Classifier, its experimental AI detection tool, citing “its low rate of accuracy”.

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