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Can Colleges Tell If Students Used AI On Their Applications?

As students across the nation wait to hear back from college admissions regarding their application status, many wonder how the admissions board will determine which applicants will make up the class of 2028. With the 2023 Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, colleges and universities can no longer consider race in admitting students, and this is the first application cycle that the ruling goes into effect. However, another growing component of college admissions that could come into play this year is the use of AI on college applications — specifically for short answers and essays. 

With numerous applicants romanticizing the idea of getting into their dream school, will AI affect college admission decisions? Each year, getting into a university gets more competitive as the average GPA increases. As a result, applicants look for ways to put their best foot forward.

According to the 2023 College Choice and Admissions Survey, 39% of college students believe that the use of AI tools on undergraduate admission applications would increase access for underrepresented and underserved communities, an issue that’s more crucial now than ever, with affirmative action out of the conversation. On the other hand, approximately 50% of college students believe undergraduate admissions boards should screen out applicants who use AI on their applications.

Arguably, there is a fine line between assistance and academic dishonesty. However, many college admissions and applicants struggle to define where AI falls within the spectrum of authenticity. So the question remains: Do colleges check for AI in applications? And will they screen out applicants who use it? Let’s delve into a couple of perspectives. 

Analyzing the admissions process

 According to The Ivy Institute, numerous colleges and universities have developed advanced software to detect AI writing assistance, including ChatGPT, a program trained to follow the directions of a prompt and provide a detailed response. In addition, with the increase of AI tools utilized in education, AI detection tools have been implemented to decode usage of AI in essays. However, admissions committees at several schools also noted the negative effects in using AI detection tools to determine applicants’ originality — including falsely accusing an applicant for plagiarism. 

It’s also crucial to be aware that many admission officers have extensive experience reviewing countless applications per year. Therefore, many admission officers can detect originality, cohesion, and authenticity from a student’s application even without the assistance of AI detection tools.

Many professors also express AI being unethical and not allowing the student to showcase their voice. According to CNN, for many college professors, it’s obvious when a student uses AI tools to write their essays because “there is no human voice.” Numerous professors also expressed in an interview with Turnitin that although in most cases, using AI isn’t plagiarism, it’s not the students’ original work, nor does AI allow them to get insight on the students’ true academic ability. 

Ultimately, there’s no definite answer on whether or not all universities can detect AI in candidates’ undergraduate applications. Still, I would avoid using AI, as it takes away the opportunity for you to showcase your authentic self to the admissions board. A huge component to getting in to the colleges you want to is how you sell yourself. The best way to align yourself with a university is by expanding on your personal experiences and outlining how they fit into your dream school’s mission statement. After all, you should want to attend a school that supports your personal and career aspirations rather than the prestige.

And honestly, you don’t need AI when there are numerous ethical resources you can use for essay assistance. Some TikTok creators recommend websites and books, like CollegeVine and Soundbite: The Admissions Secret that Gets You Into College and Beyond, that aided them to receive several Ivy League acceptances. Lastly, you can seek essay assistance from your family, friends, and your school’s writing center, who can read over your draft and give you feedback.

And even with last year’s ruling on affirmative action, many colleges are still taking steps to level the playing field and promote diversity in admissions. This includes Georgia State University (GSU), which has a plan to continue “open enrollment” to allow all students from varying racial and social backgrounds to have a fair chance in college admission. By using AI, not only do you deter your chances of getting into a university, but you also affect your chances of getting into a school that can properly assist you with choosing your major and career exploration journey.

Rather than trusting AI, trust your gut and the undergraduate admissions process. Whether or not colleges can detect and check AI in your college admissions essay, you’re better off writing your own story.  Ultimately, you will be accepted where you are meant to be.

Eliana Jacobs is a National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. Born and raised in Southwest Florida, Eliana writes articles about lifestyle, Her 20s, and career-related goals/activities. Before becoming a national writer, Eliana wrote under the UCF Her Campus Chapter,where she wrote about health and wellness. Additionally, she has a passion for social justice, advocacy, and race-related news. Beyond Her Campus, Eliana also writes flash fiction and poetry for the nation’s largest student-run organization, Strike Magazine. Some of her most recent publications include Life In Plastic: It’s “Fantastic”. Eliana also was awarded multiple honorable mentions for her writing during her undergraduate career in her school’s Tutors’ Choice Flash Fiction Contest. Lastly, she recently graduated from the University of Central Florida, earning a dual degree in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Studies on a Pre-Medical Track. Ultimately, Eliana aspires to pursue an MD/MPH to specialize in Pediatric Endocrinology while intersecting her passion for public health through medical research, poetry, and journalism. In her free time, Eliana enjoys shopping, working out, and traveling. Lastly, Eliana loves exploring local cuisines and documenting restaurants she tried (Orlando and beyond) on her food Instagram.