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AI and the College Admissions Process

Updated: Mar 18

The impact of AI on all parts of society has been a hot button issue in the press for many months. While there has been a great deal of talk about ChatGPT impacting college essays, less focus has been placed on the admissions process and how universities are and will be using AI to select students.


The truth is that, AI is a continuation of the ongoing trend of universities using algorithms to help screen students. Algorithms look at inputs beyond the student's application to identify characteristics the university believes will make them more likely to be successful on campus and actions that make them more likely to attend if selected.


With AI-infused software provided by vendors like Element 451, schools like New York University are able to rate how likely a student is to attend their campus and how successful they will be if they do through an analysis of how applicants interact with the school website. Schools like Georgia Tech have been experimenting with AI to replicate admissions decisions by using machine learning techniques, while UPENN researchers have developed an AI model to read applicant essays for desired characteristics that lead to a successful matriculation.


More importantly, a recent survey of roughly 400 admissions professionals by highlights that 50% of admissions offices surveyed have used AI and that the number is expected to grow to 80% this year. While many uses of AI seem less potentially troubling, 60% say they use it to review essays while 73% use it to analyze letters of recommendation. Of particular interest is that 87% of respondents who currently use AI in their admissions office say it is 'sometimes' or 'always' used to make final admissions decisions.The Hechinger Report, which looks at innovation in education notes that AI models are also now being used to make financial aid decisions.


While concerns about AI seem a bit overdone to us, this added piece of the admissions puzzle is alarming to parents trying to best position their students for college. AI in education has also been a concern of Alex Engler, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute who has mentioned that he is skeptical about whether institutions are appropriately contemplating how they are using AI tools.


Our view is that, outside of simply getting good grades in difficult courses, there are things families can be doing to increase their students’ odds in an admissions world where AI and algorithms are playing a larger role. Families can often dig to find out how the selection process works at many schools and what traits and factors schools care more about. Families can often even discover which, if any, software vendors individual admissions offices work with and therefore understand how they will examine and value their student. The reality is that the increasing use of AI and algorithms is another complexity for many families, but it is one they can often figure out. For those that don’t’ have the time or inclination, we can help.







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