Can ChatGPT Write your College Essay?

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays that Worked

If you’re getting ready to start the college application process, you might already be dreading all the admissions essays you’ll have to write. Between the Common App essay and additional supplementals, college essay writing ends up being a lot of work. 

Naturally, some students wonder whether ChatGPT can help them write their college admissions essay. But there are a lot of questions: is it plagiarism? Can admissions committees tell if you use ChatGPT? Is ChatGPT actually helpful?

At PrepMaven, we’ve coached students in test prep, academics, and college applications for over two decades, and we know what works to get students into selective universities. In fact, our co-founder Kevin Wong was actually interviewed by Business Insider about ChatGPT-generated application essays!

In this guide, we’ll use those decades of experience to break down the benefits and risks of using ChatGPT to help with your college application essays. Plus, we had ChatGPT draft a sample college essay that we then break down. 

Below, you can download our collection of 30 College Essays That Worked, getting students into top schools like Princeton. In the meantime, read on to learn about what ChatGPT can do in the college application process. 

Jump to section:
Is Having ChatGPT Write Your College Essays Plagiarism?
Can Colleges Detect If You Used ChatGPT?
Sample ChatGPT Common App Essay and Analysis
4 Good Uses of Chat GPT
Next steps

First thing’s first: if you submit a finished product that you didn’t write yourself, then that would typically be considered plagiarism. 

So, if you simply go into ChatGPT and have it write you an essay that you then submit, you’d be passing off something you didn’t write as your original work. 

The lines can get a bit blurry (more on that below), but generally here’s a good rule of thumb: if entire sentences in your college application essay weren’t written by you, you’ve probably crossed the line into plagiarism. 

Admissions departments can indeed tell when AI is used in writing assignments–to some extent. If you want to read more about the science of AI-detection, you can check out a detailed analysis from PC-Guide here, but we’ll give you the key information you need to know below. 

Different tools exist to analyze text and suggest the likelihood that it was generated by AI. Even though ChatGPT is fairly new technology, universities already have the technology to detect ChatGPT-generated text. The most prominent of these is probably GPTZero, a tool specifically created to detect ChatGPT. 

For the most part, these tools can’t give a 100% certain determination that your essay was written by AI, especially if you’ve made your own edits and changes to it. But it is certainly the case that if you have large AI-generated sections of text in your college application essays, university admissions committees will be able to tell

Ultimately, this is as good a reason as any to avoid having ChatGPT write your entire college application essay for you. It might save you some work, but it also risks immediately flagging your application as plagiarized, sinking your chances of admission. 

For examples of real–non-ChatGPT–college essays, click the button below. These are the kinds of essays that helped get students into top colleges like Ivies. Take a look, and then compare them with the AI-generated essay we analyze in the next section. 

I asked ChatGPT to write a 600-word essay in response to the first Common App Prompt. To make it more specific, I gave GPT directions about style and content. Below, you can read the essay in its entirety–lower down, we’ll briefly analyze whether this essay would work and what the drawbacks of ChatGPT are. 

In the vast tapestry of my life, one thread stands out prominently – the intricate game of chess. From the moment I first laid eyes on the checkered board, I was captivated by its allure. Little did I know that this simple board game would evolve into a profound journey, shaping my identity and character in profound ways.

Chess is more than just a game; it is a reflection of life itself. Each piece represents a facet of human existence – the king, a symbol of power and vulnerability; the queen, embodying strength and versatility; the pawns, the foot soldiers of our ambitions; the knights, rooks, and bishops, the allies and adversaries we encounter on our path. Every move carries consequences, every decision a ripple effect that reverberates throughout the game.

My journey with chess began at a young age, in the quiet corners of my childhood home. I remember the first time my father introduced me to the game, his eyes alight with anticipation as he laid out the pieces on the board. With each match, he imparted not only the rules of the game but also valuable lessons about strategy, foresight, and perseverance.

As I delved deeper into the world of chess, I discovered that it was not just about outmaneuvering my opponent on the board but also about understanding the subtle nuances of human psychology. The game taught me to anticipate my opponent’s moves, to think several steps ahead, and to remain calm under pressure – skills that have proven invaluable both on and off the chessboard.

Playing chess became my sanctuary, a place where I could escape the chaos of the world and immerse myself in a realm of logic and order. It taught me the importance of discipline and dedication, as mastering the game required countless hours of practice and study. But more than that, it instilled in me a sense of humility, as I learned to accept defeat graciously and to glean wisdom from my mistakes.

One of the most profound lessons I learned from chess is the concept of sacrifice. In order to gain an advantage on the board, one must sometimes be willing to sacrifice a piece – a pawn, a knight, even the queen – for the greater good. This principle extends beyond the confines of the game, teaching me to prioritize long-term goals over short-term gains and to make difficult decisions with courage and conviction.

But perhaps the most meaningful aspect of my journey with chess has been the sense of community it has provided. Through local tournaments and online forums, I have connected with fellow enthusiasts from all walks of life, forging friendships that transcend language and cultural barriers. In the company of fellow chess players, I have found a sense of belonging and camaraderie that has enriched my life in countless ways.

In the end, chess is not just a game; it is a metaphor for life itself – a complex tapestry of choices, challenges, and triumphs. It has taught me to approach every situation with a strategic mind and a resilient spirit, to embrace adversity as an opportunity for growth, and to always strive for excellence in all that I do. As I embark on the next chapter of my journey, I carry with me the lessons of the chessboard – a timeless reminder of the beauty and complexity of the human experience.

We’ve already talked about why using ChatGPT to write your college application essays is so risky, but here we’d like to briefly break down why it’s just not going to get you very good writing. Let’s take a look at the problems with this AI-generated essay. 

  1. Language

We can give ChatGPT points for grammar and spelling, but certainly not for style! While AI, naturally, does well with the mechanics of the English language, it struggles to sound like a real, believable person–especially a high schooler! 

One key aspect of the college admissions essay is that it needs to be written in your own voice. This gives the admissions committee a sense of your personality, which is a major factor in admissions! But the language here is stiff, formal, and–well–robotic!

Real high schoolers don’t use phrases like “the vast tapestry of my life” or “the foot soldiers of our ambitions.” At best, this essay makes you sound like you’re pretending to be older than you are. At worst, like you’ve gotten someone else to write your essay for you. 

  1. Emotion

Another main aspect of your Common App essay should be that it conveys your emotions and feelings. That’s what makes a personal statement personal! 

In this sample AI essay, we get a lot of discussion of the chessboard and its lessons, but we never see what the writer actually feels. This will always be a major failing of AI-generated essays: at best, they can mimic some of the emotional language used by real people, but they can’t get at the raw feelings the way a person can. 

  1. Generic Takeaways

Although this essay isn’t bad and uses some specific language, its lessons are generic. A great college essay combines personal experiences with unique insights that show how you’ve learned and grown as a person.

This essay mimics that: it talks about “the lessons of the chessboard” and “shaping my identity in profound ways.” But these lessons remain generic, the kind of things that anyone could say: “striving for excellence” and “embracing adversity” are the exact kinds of phrases a good college essay tutor would tell you to avoid.

Why? Because university admissions committees have read these phrases again and again and again! They’re cliche, they’re boring, and they’ll make it seem like you’re both of those things as well.

It’s the last thing you want, especially if your college application is getting sent to competitive schools!

Take a look at this collection of real sample essays written by successful college applicants and notice the differences: they have a distinct voice, passion, and unique lessons!

Although you absolutely shouldn’t use ChatGPT to write the actual substance of your essay, there are ways you can use ChatGPt to aid in the writing process. 

Below, we’ll list some good ways to use ChatGPT–ones that won’t run the risk of being flagged as plagiarism. 

  • Generating large lists of topics.
    • Of course, a Common App personal statement should be personal: it should draw on the things from your life that matter to you. Still, using ChatGPT to generate a large list of possible college essay topics isn’t a terrible idea, so long as you make sure to pick a topic that actually connects with your life. (You can read more about good college essay topics here!)
  • Providing free-writing or brainstorming exercises.
    • Starting is often the hardest part of writing a college essay–that’s why we have a whole guide on it here. In addition to the advice we offer in that guide, you can use ChatGPT to draft up some free writing exercises to get you started. 
  • Researching topics.
    • While most college application essays are all about you, some–like the “Why us?” essay–require you to do research. ChatGPT can be quite helpful when it comes to finding specific information on a university you’re applying to. Just be sure to always double check what you find–ChatGPT can make mistakes.
  • Checking your college essay for errors.
    • ChatGPT might not be able to understand the emotional stakes of your essay, but it’s excellent at catching grammar, spelling, and other mistakes. You can also ask ChatGPT to analyze your essay for any unclear or confusing sentences. 

Of course, while ChatGPT can help you with all of the above when it comes to your college application essays, it’ll never really be personal. If you think you need help writing your college essays–and our experience has shown us that most students do–then there’s nothing better than personalized essay help from a real human being. 

We’ve done the research (ourselves, without AI) to rank the 14 best college essay services for students applying to college, depending on exactly what kind of support you need. 

Our own tutors–most of whom come from Ivy League colleges–bring an unmatched dedication and expertise. They’ll get to know you, help you brainstorm, and walk you through every step of the college essay writing process. All you have to do is contact us to get started. 

Writing your college application essays can be tough, and it can be hard to know where to start. Sadly, ChatGPT isn’t going to be the solution if you want compelling college essays. 

But, fortunately, we’ve put together all the information you could need to get started. Below, check out our related college essay posts, covering everything from college essay formats to winning application essay conclusions to real sample essays. 

In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s no better resource than PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays that Worked: a real collection of 30 Common App essays that got students admitted to schools like Princeton. 

When you’re ready to start writing, contact us to get paired with a college essay coach and see why we have a perfect track record of 5-star reviews!

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Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.