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More on AI and College Admissions

Updated: Apr 3

Recently, there has been a great deal of focus on AI’s impact on college essays, but less on its broader effect on admissions. A fairly substantial September 2023 Intelligent survey of 399 admissions professionals (79% higher education and 21% private high school) provides surprising insight here. 56% of the institutions represented used AI in their admissions process at the time of the survey, with 82% saying they expected to in 2024.


Perhaps more striking was the type of AI utilization, which many assume to be primarily Chat Bots. In the survey, 44% of respondents said their school ‘always’ used AI to make the final decision in their applicant selection process with another 43% saying AI ‘sometimes’ was used to make final admissions decisions. For most people, learning that 87% of current admissions decisions ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ use AI in the final decision process is a surprisingly large number. 


While there are a few schools that dispute the result of the survey, schools are not always terribly transparent about their admissions process. It is also worth mentioning that one of the more visible doubters, the enrollment management head at the University of Georgia, acknowledges that AI has the potential to impact admissions. Further, an Ellucian survey found that 70% of 1,140 higher education administrators were favorable about AI’s potential to impact the admissions process.


USC’s Rossier School of Education has written fairly extensively on AI and its impact on higher education. Their general belief is that a growing number of colleges and universities are using AI to assist admissions offices in their evaluation of applicants. The Princeton Review has discussed how AI can speed the analysis process and reduce errors while also discussing machine learning and how it can impact the admissions decision process, a source of concern for many in higher education.


In brief, AI machine learning allows universities to analyze the profiles of previous students to create algorithms that can screen applicants through patterns and trends. A concern around AI machine learning is the lack of transparency around the inputs that it is looking for. This concern has been exacerbated as an increasing number of schools look at student personality traits and other factors that can be surprising to the families of applicants.


Our belief is closer to what Dan Hossler, a senior researcher at CERRP has mentioned, that many schools are already ‘well down’ the AI path, it is simply that it has been called ‘big data’ and algorithms. We believe that the holistic process that many universities call their admissions process often simply reflects an increasing number of variables that algorithms allow colleges to judge students on. Not every school is using rubrics and formulas, but those that do not often use the software that effectively pushes them in the same direction. Whether it is AI powered software like Liaison’s Othot and Element 451 or working with consultants like RNL or Carnegie Dartlet, the impact can be the same.


The risk in this new world of admissions comes with an opportunity: if an applicant knows the software and the consultants, they can better understand what is most valued in a school’s admissions process, and appeal to its interests and avoid what it does not value. We can help with this.


While it is important to realize that AI in admissions is more algorithms than it is Terminator and world domination, it is an example of computers and models replacing a more ‘human’ analysis of applicants. At a time when schools talk about holistic admissions, it seems like the opposite is increasingly true at some colleges. Of particular focus is that in the competitive world of college admissions those that can uncover valued key words and have an understanding of what schools may value will be able to influence an AI driven process. It is clear to us that more changes are coming.





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