Using ChatGPT to Write a College Essay | Tips & Examples

A good college essay helps to distinguish your application from those of other candidates. It conveys your experiences, values, and character traits and indicates why you would make a good addition to the university you’re applying to.

Your college essay should be your own work. However, AI tools like ChatGPT may be helpful during the preparation and revision stages of your writing.

You can also use the essay checker, so you don’t have to revise your writing yourself.

You can use these tools to:

  1. Brainstorm essay ideas
  2. Develop an outline
  3. Generate feedback

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Brainstorming ideas

Your college essay topic should reveal something distinctive about your personality and have a unique angle.

Brainstorming a range of potential ideas is a good place to start. This can help to stimulate creative thinking and prompt self-reflection. It can also help you draw connections between seemingly unrelated experiences or ideas.

You can use ChatGPT to generate questions to help you brainstorm.

Example: Using ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas
  • Generate 10 questions to help me brainstorm topics for my college admission essay.
    1. How has a particular life experience shaped your perspective on a specific issue or topic?
    2. What challenges or obstacles have you faced, and how have they influenced your personal growth?
    3. How has your involvement in extracurricular activities impacted your character development and contributed to your identity?
    4. In what ways have you demonstrated leadership skills and made a positive impact on your community?
    5. Describe a significant academic achievement or project that showcases your intellectual curiosity and passion.
    6. How have your cultural background and family values influenced your aspirations and goals for the future?
    7. Reflect on a time when you had to step outside of your comfort zone to achieve a meaningful outcome. What did you learn from this experience?
    8. How do you envision using your education to make a difference in the world or contribute to a specific field or industry?
    9. What do you believe sets you apart from other applicants, and how would your unique perspective enrich the college community?
    10. Discuss a book, artwork, or scientific discovery that has profoundly impacted your thinking and helped shape your intellectual interests.

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Developing an outline

College admission essays don’t follow one predefined structure, so you can approach them creatively and incorporate storytelling techniques.

Two common approaches to structuring your essay are the narrative structure (a chronological narrative that shows your character development over time) and the vignette or montage structure (multiple scenes connected by a common topic or theme).

Regardless of the structure you choose, it’s important to establish a coherent narrative and ensure that your essay flows smoothly.

You can use ChatGPT as a source of inspiration and to generate potential ideas on how to structure your college essay. Do this by prompting the tool to create an outline using your chosen topic. You can make the prompt as specific as you like, mentioning any facts or viewpoints that should be incorporated into the output.

Examples: Using ChatGPT to generate an essay outline
  • Provide a very short outline for a college admission essay. The essay will be about my experience working at an animal shelter. The essay will be 500 words long.
    1. Introduction
      1. Hook: Share a brief and engaging anecdote about your experience at the animal shelter.
      2. Thesis statement: Working at an animal shelter has been a transformative experience, teaching me valuable lessons about compassion, resilience, and community impact.
    2. Body Paragraph: Initial Experiences and Challenges
      1. Describe your first impressions and emotions upon starting work at the shelter.
      2. Discuss the challenges you encountered, such as the condition of the animals or the emotional toll of their situations.
    3. Body Paragraph: Building Connections and Empathy
      1. Highlight the relationships you formed with the animals and their impact on you.
      2. Discuss specific instances where you witnessed the transformative power of love and care on the animals’ well-being.
    4. Body Paragraph: Collaboration and Community Impact
      1. Explore the collaborative efforts within the shelter community.
      2. Discuss how working with others led to positive outcomes and inspired you to make a difference.
    5. Body Paragraph: Personal Growth and Future Aspirations
      1. Reflect on how working at the shelter has shaped your character and values.
      2. Discuss the skills and lessons learned that are applicable beyond the shelter environment.
      3. Connect your experiences to your future goals and aspirations.
    6. Conclusion
      1. Summarize the main points discussed in the essay.
      2. Reinforce the transformative nature of your experience and your commitment to making a positive impact in the future.
It’s important to understand how to use ChatGPT safely. When using ChatGPT to organize or structure your essay, be careful about the information you choose to input. As OpenAI generally stores ChatGPT conversations to train future models, any personal information you input could be included in future training material.

Generating feedback

You can use ChatGPT to help revise your essay before submitting it to ensure that it’s of a high quality. However, ChatGPT cannot provide the same kind of informed feedback as a human, and it’s not able to adequately judge qualities such as vulnerability and authenticity. For this reason, it’s important to also ask for feedback from two to three people who have experience with college essays and who know you well.

Nevertheless, you can use ChatGPT to generate feedback on certain aspects, such as consistency of tone, clarity of structure, and grammar and punctuation. You can also use Scribbr’s free paraphrasing tool to help vary the tone of your writing and Scribbr’s free grammar checker to ensure your text is free of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

Alternatively, you can seek the advice of a human essay coach or editor. We recommend using Scribbr’s essay editing service.

Example: Using ChatGPT to get feedback
  • Provide constructive feedback on how to improve the above essay with regard to appropriateness of tone, clarity of structure, and grammar and punctuation.
  • Certainly! Here’s the constructive feedback on the essay, focusing on tone, clarity of structure, grammar, and punctuation:
    1. Tone:
      • The tone of the essay is generally appropriate, conveying a sense of personal growth and passion. However, consider injecting more enthusiasm and emotion into certain parts of the essay to make it more engaging and captivating.
    2. Clarity of Structure:
      • The overall structure of the essay is clear and follows a logical progression. However, it would benefit from a stronger introduction that hooks the reader and clearly outlines the main points to be discussed.
      • Consider using clear topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph to provide a preview of the main idea or argument that will be presented.
    3. Grammar and Punctuation:
      • Pay attention to subject-verb agreement and verb tenses throughout the essay to ensure consistency.
      • Proofread the essay to eliminate any repetitive phrases or sentences.
      • Check for the correct use of commas and other punctuation marks, ensuring they are used appropriately to enhance clarity and flow.

    Additionally, here are a few constructive suggestions for improvement:

    • Check for the correct use of commas and other punctuation marks, ensuring they are used appropriately to enhance clarity and flow.
    • Expand on the ways in which working at the animal shelter influenced your future aspirations and academic/professional pursuits.
    • Be mindful of using diverse vocabulary and sentence structures to enhance the overall quality of the essay.

    Remember, these suggestions are subjective, and it’s important to consider your own writing style and voice when implementing any changes.

Limitations of using ChatGPT

While ChatGPT can help you brainstorm, outline, and revise your essay, having it write your essay for you can negatively impact your application in several ways.

Unoriginal content

ChatGPT responses are based on a wide range of sources and sometimes resemble existing texts. Furthermore, they are not always unique, since other users may receive the same responses to similar prompts.

As the point of a college essay is to showcase your unique experiences and perspective and make you stand out from other candidates, having ChatGPT write your essay is not a good idea.

Formulaic style

ChatGPT outputs don’t reflect your personality, are highly formulaic, and contain many clichés (e.g., outputs often use hackneyed phrases like “burning desire,” “insatiable curiosity,” and “thirst for knowledge”).

Furthermore, ChatGPT outputs often “tell” rather than “show” (i.e., they state a fact instead of illustrating it using examples and vivid imagery).

Lack of personal insight

Human-written text tends to be more unpredictable and contain more creative language choices than AI-generated writing.

While the connections you make in your writing should not be nonsensical, drawing unique and unexpected connections between different experiences can help show character development and display your creativity and critical thinking skills.

ChatGPT can’t do this. Furthermore, it can’t express authentic emotion or vulnerability about specific memories that are, after all, your memories, not ChatGPT’s.

Risk of plagiarism

Passing off AI-generated text as your own work is usually considered plagiarism (or at least academic dishonesty). AI detectors may be used to detect this offense.

It’s highly unlikely that a university will accept your application if you are caught submitting an AI-generated college essay.

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Other interesting articles

If you want more tips on using AI tools, understanding plagiarism, and citing sources, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations, examples, and formats.

Frequently asked questions

Can ChatGPT write my college essay?

No, having ChatGPT write your college essay can negatively impact your application in numerous ways. ChatGPT outputs are unoriginal and lack personal insight.

Furthermore, Passing off AI-generated text as your own work is considered academically dishonest. AI detectors may be used to detect this offense, and it’s highly unlikely that any university will accept you if you are caught submitting an AI-generated admission essay.

However, you can use ChatGPT to help write your college essay during the preparation and revision stages (e.g., for brainstorming ideas and generating feedback).

Can ChatGPT feedback my college essay?

Yes, you use ChatGPT to help write your college essay by having it generate feedback on certain aspects of your work (consistency of tone, clarity of structure, etc.).

However, ChatGPT is not able to adequately judge qualities like vulnerability and authenticity. For this reason, it’s important to also ask for feedback from people who have experience with college essays and who know you well.

Alternatively, you can get advice using Scribbr’s essay editing service.

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Koen Driessen

Koen has written multiple theses and founded, together with Bas and Richard, the thesis editing company Scribbr in 2012.

1 comment

Koen Driessen
Koen Driessen (Scribbr Team)
June 26, 2023 at 2:08 PM

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