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Is it possible to use ChatGPT to get into Harvard?

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

ChatGPT is the newest trending tech advancement. It is a language model that uses AI and machine learning technology to produce human-like text based on the input it receives. It can give information, write code, make templates for emails, and even write poetry in multiple languages.

Many educators are concerned that their students will begin to use this technology to do their homework. Admissions officers are concerned that students might start writing their college applications with this tool. How effective would that be?

We tried it out! We took our goal to apply to Harvard and began asking it questions that would be typical of a student just beginning the process.

ChatGPT was able to answer some basic questions like ‘what is the average SAT score for getting into Harvard?’ and it knew what the deadlines for admissions are. It therefore is quite capable of giving a lot of basic information that students might need to know.

ChatGPT is not always known for having perfectly accurate information, but over time it will learn more and give more accurate information.

However, that information could be found on the Harvard website. A student who really wants to go to that school ought to spend a lot of time investigating the website; the value added here is merely a convenience.

We asked about other steps in applying to college. It gave surface-level advice for how to get a good letter of recommendation, when to start your essays, and a general overview of the application process.

The real question then is, can ChatGPT help you write your essays?

We tested that too!

We asked it to write a 150-word response to Harvard’s supplemental question about elaborating on an extracurricular activity.

It was first able to give a decent, if somewhat vague, first draft. You can ask ChatGPT to revise its responses according to new feedback, and by the fourth draft we had something much better that I would have considered an excellent student second draft.

The trouble is that it lacks the personal character of a student’s real experience. I can spend all day asking it to add more and more details, but it will never exactly reflect the student’s values and thoughts. When I asked, ChatGPT itself said, “An essay written by a language model, no matter how sophisticated, cannot match the depth of personal experience and individual writing style that is unique to you. It is always best to write your own essay, as this will help you stand out from other applicants and give the admissions committee a more accurate and complete picture of who you are as a person.“

At the moment, ChatGPT is a more sophisticated search engine, not a writer. It is building essays out of building blocks it finds online. Additionally, Academia is already developing software to track whether or not ChatGPT is being used by students to cheat.

Even so, ChatGPT is continuously improving, so it may be quite tempting for students to use this instead of spending months writing and rewriting their essays.

So what are advisors doing that this robot can’t do? Does this mean the end of college advising?

It depends on what you wanted from your advisor to begin with. If all along what you really wanted was a robot that took in your student’s resume and churned out a generic Harvard application, then after a few years, ChatGPT might be the robot of your dreams.

However, if you wanted an experienced professional to connect with your child, to help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses, to teach them how to critically think, research, and make decisions based on their passions and career goals, to gain the skills they need to be able to succeed in university and in the career field, if you wanted an advisor, then you need much more than what ChatGPT can give you.

ChatGPT is limited in this way. It cannot have a consistent, interactive dialogue that builds trust and understanding between it and the student. It cannot help a student build confidence because it cannot know who the student is. It can give generic advice, but it cannot tailor it to a student’s needs. It cannot monitor that student’s mental health. It cannot evaluate where a student needs help or needs work. It cannot for example tell a student if their interviewing skills need work. It cannot really measure a student’s skills or character.

Top schools like Harvard are really looking for students who are unique and capable of demonstrating their skills and passions. ChatGPT is not capable of either doing that on behalf of a student or guiding them on how to do that themselves. College advising is much more than just writing essays or selecting courses. It is about the process of self-discovery that builds in students the skills to be successful in life. ChatGPT cannot provide the personalization that builds growth in students. In other words, ChatGPT won’t be replacing advisors anytime soon, and it won’t be getting anyone into Harvard.


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