Using AI for College Applications? What Your Kid Needs to Know

The world of artificial intelligence is moving faster than ever. How can your college-bound teen leverage AI for college applications? We offer some guidance.

The college search and application process is equal parts exciting and intense for students. Your student is working hard to find the best college fit and put their best foot forward in their applications. Among the many online tools and resources available to help students do that is an increasing list of powerful artificial intelligence (AI) options — and the AI landscape changes fast. Your student may be considering using AI for college applications.

While AI does present some opportunities, there are also risks and limits to its appropriate use. Here is some guidance on smart and ethical ways your student can leverage AI as they navigate the college admissions process.

Using AI to find the right college fit

The college search process is one area where AI can be hugely beneficial. If your child hasn’t settled on a Michigan favorite like Michigan State University or the University of Michigan — or if they just want to see what other schools might fit their needs, there are tools designed to help build a list.

Sites like Cappex and Niche use algorithms to match students with colleges that fit their interests, grades, test scores and more. These tools can allow students to efficiently build lists of schools worth exploring further. Having an initial list tailored to their needs saves time and energy. Parents can encourage students to use these tools to find potential colleges, while still visiting campuses in person whenever possible.  

Even before that all-important college visit, your student can get a feel for the college environment by taking a virtual tour. Harvard College, for example, has an interactive virtual tour your student can take to explore indoor and outdoor spaces. There’s a parent version, too. Of course, nothing can replace real time spent on campus. If Harvard’s traditional buildings and leafy quads don’t appeal from the start, that’s valuable information to know before you commit to the travel. 

When your student eventually tours the campus in person, or even takes part in an interview with admissions staff, they may feel more comfortable if they have some questions prepared. Here’s where using generative AI like ChatGPT or Claude.AI can be helpful. A simple prompt like “What are the most common questions prospective college students ask?” can return several general questions to get your student started. Expect generated questions along the lines of:

  • What majors/degree programs do you offer? 
  • What is campus life like? 
  • What types of support services are available? Things like academic advising, career counseling, tutoring, mental health services, etc.

Generative AI can respond with very general questions, like those above, or very specific questions related to a certain school. Just be aware that at this stage, most tools have only been trained with data up to the year 2021, so the information you receive will not be up-to-date.

AI for keeping on track

Part of the application process includes keeping track of numerous dates and deadlines, which can be overwhelming for a high school student who is balancing classes, sports and extracurricular activities. Here’s where AI can help by generating a comprehensive timeline for essays, applications, the FAFSA and any additional scholarship applications.

As with any interaction with ChatGPT, the quality of your student’s prompt will determine what the tool will generate. Don’t be afraid to refine your request and ask again — or start with an existing prompt and adjust it to your own needs. 

Here’s an example. Based on a suggested prompt from this article in Forbes, which includes FAFSA completion, essays and applications, try refining your timeline request to include information specific to Michigan’s SAT dates and then ask Google Bard to create a schedule. Unlike ChatGPT, Google Bard will know the scheduled dates for testing in Michigan public schools. 

Both tools emphasize that the guidelines are general and should be adjusted to personal circumstances. Pro tip: ask for the data to be generated in a tabular format and it will appear like a spreadsheet, or, in the case of Bard, as a list.

AI for college applications

When your child is ready to apply to colleges, this is the time to have a conversation about the appropriate uses of AI. When it comes to essays and other written application components, AI should be used thoughtfully. Grammar-checking tools are acceptable, because they simply improve spelling and readability. But students should avoid using AI to generate full paragraphs or essays. 

Admissions officers want to hear the student’s authentic voice in their writing. AI-written essays often sound like they are written by, well, a robot. A better approach is to have your student write a draft, then use an AI tool like Grammarly to refine sentence structure and catch mistakes. The ideas and content should remain their own.

Admissions professionals want to get to know applicants as individuals, so outsourcing writing to AI will not impress. Instead, your student should embrace the essay writing process as an opportunity for self-reflection. The end result will be writing that is truly their own. 

The college application process provides an opportunity for students to highlight their abilities and share who they are with admissions committees. With responsible use, AI can help generate ideas to encourage that expression, and do a lot of the research legwork to uncover colleges they may never otherwise learn about. 

For college applications, AI can assist with research, proofreading and efficiency. But the substance of the application — the student’s own words, experiences and academic record — must remain genuine. By guiding your student to use AI as a tool, not a crutch, you’ll help them submit college applications that authentically represent who they are.

Content sponsored by Michigan Education Savings Program. Visit misaves.com.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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