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Will Your Admission Essay Pass College’s AI Detection Software? Part 1

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Humanity in AI-Generated Content

Before we go any further, let me start by saying that I’m NOT a bot. You might well have been wondering whether this article was one of the kinds where I tell you everything I know about AI-generated content and give a perspective about AI-assisted admissions essays, and then, when you’re fully invested in my authorial voice, reveal that, in fact, *I* am a bot, too.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Blade Runner… it appears that’s the future we’ve arrived at here. (If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a future in which nobody knows who’s human anymore, not even the androids impersonating humans.)  In fact, these days at least, rest assured that people WILL still be able to tell if your essay was written by a bot.

Creating Your Narrative: The Essence of College Essays

Not only will they know, you will know. In the end, and I’ll get to some details about human craft and product vs. AI craft and product further below), writing a college essay is more than submitting a final product, it’s also about the journey that you took to get there. It’s about the introspection you went through in summing up some theme to your final years or how your particular upbringing or experiences launched you in one or another direction.

And if you’re applying for graduate or law school, it’s a competently framed synopsis of what makes you tick and how your interests will burgeon and develop in grad school and beyond. It’s a little roadmap of where you’ve been and where you’re going with respect to your education and your goals.

It’s not the final word, but having thought it through properly does help when you face inevitable vicissitudes in the coming years. I’m a proponent—especially at the undergraduate level—of the idea that if you’ve thought your essay out and given serious reflection to what you’ve accomplished and what these experiences mean to you, in doing this you will find the raw material for your own good essay.

Mastering the Art of Essay Writing: Crafting Your Voice

Once you have your ideas in mind, you need to organize and write them down smartly. You need to “shoot the par” in terms of grammar and organization, whatever that par may be for in your situation. This is just the start, the nucleus, but if your essay has potential (in terms of its narrative arc and your relationship to it, along with its relatability to others)—if it has all these and—say—it isn’t written well?—then you won’t get the consideration you perhaps deserve.

However, if you simply tune your writing, work on its craft and improve where you can your use of language and iron out any errors in perspective or tone—once you’ve corrected for these items of craft and technique: your original impetus, your nucleus, will as a matter of course, begin to come through clearly and understandably for your reader.

Writing an essay is a way of making your ideas effective. Once you’re up to the writing par, you’re likely to get lumped in with the competitive applications. Even though you said the same thing the second time as what you tried to say the first?—yes. And this time you’ll get the admissions reader to keep reading all the way through.

You always need to meet your audience, the admissions committee here, where they are. They won’t be coming down to YOU; they won’t be trying to decode what’s underneath a badly written essay. That’s where an essay editing coach or an advisor or an editing service can help. It’s your voice, but we help you get it heard.

The Limitations of AI in College Admissions Essays

AI programs—in their present form at least (circa 2024)—are simply not able to write a stand-out essay for college application. This goes for Harvard all the way down the line.

An AI will be able to produce such an essay, sure, but AI-generated essays are formulaic; they have a recurring grammatical style that can be detected by another AI; they speak in smart-sounding generalities that are often meaningless; they jump in transition from idea to idea or paragraph to paragraph, often with an ingeniously apt metaphor or connection but without any deeper connecting relevance beyond that.

AI in practice is a promulgator of narrative “devices”, and these devices tire easily and often don’t stand up to scrutiny. In addition to this, AI is notorious for getting things wrong and for erring, often in almost comical ways. Admissions committees have trained their readers to recognize the above flags. They’re in a very important business; they’ve done their homework.

AI’s Language Fluency vs Authenticity

To me, output from an AI bot sounds like it’s been written by an English major—but not quite, because a trained student in English would write better. The AI, however, is in the same field of play: AI has a quick felicity with language. AI loves correct grammar and florid adjectives and adverbs, and loves to illustrate “points” through vivid verbal portraits and verbal detail.

But there’s only one problem, not everyone who applies to college is applying to an English department. And not everybody should want to sound like one: say, someone applying to a computer science program. The thing with AI is that it sounds like a not terribly good English major. “Too Englishy” English major.

While it might not be apparent in every AI-generated sentence, overall through the course of it’s “arc”—which is another big problem with AI; they don’t have a genuine arc—AI sounds like a very, very smart (think the kid who skipped grades 9-12, think the kid not even from around where you are and maybe not even really from anywhere, and think: middle schooler who has never been outside of his own room—but has read plenty about being outside (trained on it, in fact) through the course of his 25,000 magazine subscription, which he daily re-reads and nightly cross-references with the want ads from 4631 cities in 128 countries and then plots summaries in the form of crosswords.

Whoever GPT is, I think he loves him some 19th century British works… I’d not be surprised if they were having some kind of sale in that department out there on the internet (that is, in the public domain section) when he was unleashed for his “learning”.

Applicability for College Essays – Will AI Help Succeed?

The ridiculous aside, I can on the other hand, recommend AI to anyone, say, needing to contact a list of, for example, 100 clients, each with their own individual needs that need to be addressed—AI would do a great job porting data from a database, say, and working it into friendly, business-like prose, mentioning specifics relating to each individual, and otherwise appealing to clients on the level of their own interest.

But, given the very personal and multifaceted nature of the college or graduate essay, AI is simply not applicable. It cannot organize and present your unique voice—it’s simply limited. It’s amazing, yes, but limited if you put it to scrutiny.

An AI-generated essay will make you sound smart at first glance, but smart like a thousand other people with the same glitches and peculiarities of voice. And it wouldn’t be your own voice. You wouldn’t have thought it through properly. And you’ll be “detected”—like in Blade Runner.

Written by Brian Pieragostini, EssayEdge editor.

Related: Using ChatGPT for Writing Admission Essay: How It Can Ruin Your Chances of Success

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