In one of my favorite stories by Roald Dahl, “The Great Automatic Grammatizator” (1996), an inventor creates a machine that can write prize-winning novels in roughly 15 minutes.
The story has a depressing conclusion, as the world's greatest writers are gradually forced into licensing their names—and all human creativity—to the machine.
Some people argue that Dahl’s story predicted the rise of ChatGPT nearly 30 years in advance.
But is that a fair assessment? Is ChatGPT really akin to Dahl’s Grammatizator, or rather, is it really a threat to nullify all human creativity?
Ever since ChatGPT came onto the scene, I have gotten many questions from students and colleagues about its role in admissions essays. And those questions led to this article series, where I’ll be exploring the usefulness of AI in creating personal statements.
As someone who’s helped students write personal statements for 11+ years, I know the ins and outs from start to finish, and I want to see how useful AI can be in each step of the process.
That way, you can decide for yourself whether and how much you want to use AI to aid you in your admissions writing.
For our purposes here, let’s use medical school personal statements as our model, although I think our findings will apply across the board.
When students show up to work with me, they come with a resume of experiences (sometimes upwards of 15-20) and a boat-load of questions:
And that’s just a few of their initial challenges. Based on my years of experience, I am able to help them find common trends/themes in their experiences, while also guiding them in how to properly allocate the experiences across the application.
But that’s a careful art I’ve honed through hundreds of applicants. Would ChatGPT be able to do something similar?
Below, I’ve listed a hypothetical outline of a candidate’s experiences (ranked by the candidate based on its importance), including category, name, duration, and total hours.
This is what I’d typically see when initially reviewing an applicant’s profile. How effective would AI be in helping this student with idea generation and organization for their personal statement?
Let’s start by seeing how ChatGPT responds to the following prompt:
Do you see any important common themes across the experiences?
Here’s what ChatGPT gave me:
If you were this student, would you find this assessment helpful?
Eh, probably not.
OK, what about organization? Let’s see what happens if I prompt AI like this:
How would you suggest organizing their personal statement?
Again, I don’t think most students would find this particularly useful. Or worse, it could send them down the wrong path.
OK, maybe things will get better if I ask the AI for a rough draft:
Could you write me an example personal statement for medical school that would utilize these themes and organization?
As you can see, if you ask ChatGPT to write a personal statement (even informed with some specific information), you will be given a technically sound but generic essay.
And that’s because there’s a lot more that goes into a personal statement beyond exposition.
Let’s break down all the issues with ChatGPT’s advice and initial rough draft:
If you’re going to use AI for this step of the personal statement writing process, here are my biggest pieces of advice:
I don’t think these strategies will solve all of the fundamental issues, but they’ll certainly help.
When assessing AI’s usefulness, I think it’s important to compare it to a human advisor, which I attempted to do succinctly below:
Want to see the outline and advice I gave this student about their personal statement?
Check out this Free Download.
Stay tuned for my future articles in this series, where I will continue examining AI’s usefulness in other stages of the personal statement process!
Next up: AI’s ability to write hooks / introductory paragraphs
For over 11 years, Ryan Kelly has guided hundreds of students towards acceptance into top colleges and graduate schools, with an emphasis on standing out while also staying true to themselves. Read more about Ryan here. Or book a free intro meeting with him here.