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Essay Writing Bot-ched Up? What's a Counselor to Do?

Sitting at my laptop at the start the New Year, I scroll over to my Common App dashboard. Some students have their green checks: in and done! Others have a day - or maybe a few - to hit submit. While it was a somewhat relaxing holiday week, many students were still on the job, and we had some good conversations. They needed reassurance, mostly. I tell them it will all work out. It always does.


Early Decisions: Any Surprises?

By mid-December, some students had Early Decisions to be excited about, while others were left still not knowing where they will matriculate the next year. I always track reporting by the University of Virginia, which is helpful enough to break down decisions by residents and out-of-state applicants. In UVA's relatively new ED round, it accepted just 17 percent nonresidents compared with 31 percent of its own, almost as low as Duke (16 percent) and lower than Hopkins (20 percent) or Williams (27 percent).


UVA: Hoos being picky now?

Penn continued to not even report admission statistics. Still, the Quakers were quick to announce that they had done away with enrollment deposits. Rather than footing the $400 to seal their spot, students (sorry, their parents), won't have to remit funds until they are bill for their first term. So the issue remains the same: gaining admission. I continue to cheer on my students as they tidy up ED IIs and await Early Action announcements, many of which will come from mid-January to late February. Students tend to be very resilient when it comes to decisions, while parents understandably look back and wonder what went wrong. As the prolific Jon Boeckenstedt, VP of Enrollment Management at Oregon State, tells us in "Why You Were Denied": " . . . your ability to control things is far less than you think." He goes on to list several uncontrollable factors, including who reads a file, when they read it, what others say about a candidate and how the prospective college views senior-year course choices.


Essay Writing Bot-ched Up? What's a Counselor to Do? These days, we can't escape talk of the ChatGPT, nor should we; it's fascinating technology. Yes, AI is incredible, and it can write like a very knowledgeable human (more efficiently, too). But I have to think that it's not smart enough to really know the student's story and convey it in a creative and authentic manner.


The other day, I read a Business Insider article about using the bot to write cover letters that were subsequently shared with recruiters. Here is some feedback from those professionals:

  • "The structure of the letter is good . . . but it lacks some detail around the company they're applying for."

  • "Their tone is too formal and dry, and I'd expect them to show more creativity and character."

  • "They lack character and seem almost too formal and professional that I'd want to get to know the person a bit better."

The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern received the same feedback when she tried out ChatGPT in an AP Lit class. The teacher, Stern wrote, told her that the submission done by ChatGPT was “wooden” and “lacked verve and voice.”

Every year, I go through painstaking detail to speak with students about authentic voice. I'm always excited when the next year's Common App prompts are released (usually around March) and I can have the discussion about owning the essay process. For now, personal statements and supplements will be quite important to selective colleges, which will be savvy about AI-enabled essays. Is Stanford . . . Boring?

Popular? Nearly impossible to get in? But boring? As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the university's tree mascot rolled out a banner at an October football match stating, "Stanford Hates Fun." The result: mascot suspended! Indeed, Stanford students have had enough of their school going after partying and dictating word choice to not offend others. According to the article, "Stanford has acknowledged the students’ complaints about their doldrums with a new FAQ list on the school’s website. 'Does Stanford hate fun?' it begins. 'Of course not!'"



Stanford accepts 3.7% of its applicant pool, who get to be bored!

Who's Scooting Around Campuses This Year?

This college counselor remembers first seeing scooters on the Tulane campus during a pre-pandemic visit. We all know what happened after that. Concerned about student safety, colleges including Fordham, NYU and Boston U have all banned e-scooters. Boston College did the same, issuing a message last month that cited concerns about collisions and fires stemming from charging lithium batteries.


No e-scooters means BC Eagles will need to fly this winter.

Gridiron Madness

It's bowl season again. This weekend, the Georgia Dawgs clinched a berth in the national championship game, overcoming a 14-point Ohio State lead. They will face surprise winner TCU, which outlasted ever-popular University of Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. TCU, part of the Big 12, hasn't won a national title since 1938, while Georgia is trying to repeat as champion. Kickoff is slated for Monday, January 9, at the beautiful SoFi Stadium.



As we go through January, I'll be holding all-important midyear meetings with sophomores and juniors. Interested? Get in touch now.


Happy 2023! May your student - and all of us - keep learning.



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