In Part 1 of this series, I explored AI’s effectiveness in helping a student generate ideas and organize their personal statement (using medical school as an example).
I even asked ChatGPT to create an initial draft of the personal statement based on its advice.
Make sure to check out Part 1 to see how I graded AI’s performance for the brainstorming and outlining steps in the writing process.
Today, I want to move on to the challenge of writing introductory paragraphs, or “hooks,” to see how well AI can assist students with this challenge.
After reading the rough draft that the AI produced, I felt pretty unsatisfied with the introductory paragraph, which felt pretty generic and forgettable:
There are small problems, such as needlessly fancy diction like “confluence” and super cliche phrases like “my calling,” but the main issue here is the lack of an attention-grabbing story.
So, I figured I would try to prompt the AI again to see if it could improve the opener:
Can you revise the first paragraph to make it an attention-grabbing story about a specific patient I helped in the Emergency Department?
(NOTE: it’s funny that this was ChatGPT’s initial advice anyway in Part 1, but for some reason it failed to follow that advice without further prompting from me)
This is definitely better than the original. And it’s technically sound. Pretty decent for not having a ton of information. But altogether it’s still pretty cliche.
The main issues here are a lack of memorability and a vagueness about how the student actually helped the patient (beyond mere documentation).
But perhaps this AI-generated hook would remind the student of some actual cases they encountered? Perhaps it could spark a memory of a specific patient interaction?
Let’s prompt the AI even more to try and make this better:
Can you revise the first paragraph again to include some dialogue between myself and the patient to show my empathy and my ability to use our common background to help him calm down? Can you also add a few sentences about how I helped the patient’s family? Can you also include details about the patient’s medical history to add more context and further dramatize the story?
The hook / introduction is getting a little bit better each time we prompt it, but I think most people would argue that this version is overly sentimental and a bit unbelievable.
Ultimately, I think this exercise is illustrating some of ChatGPT’s strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: format, structure, transitions, exposition
Weaknesses: narrative, originality, voice
And this makes sense. The AI is drawing on every example of a personal statement it can find on the internet and synthesizing all those essays and associated advice into a single essay.
So, AI is going to thrive in organization/structure and more “telling statements” that summarize the main points. On the other hand, it’s going to flounder in the more creative tasks that make a personal statement original, authentic, and individualized.
At best, these hooks/introductions the AI produced would give the student a template/structure they could further personalize themselves through more accurate details and authentic voice.
Harkening back to Part 1 of this series, I feel that the AI chose the wrong experience to focus on in the introduction. It took the most straightforward route in selecting the emergency department scribe position for the opener, which makes logical sense for a medical school essay but in this case was not the best way of showing this student’s unique strengths as a person.
When advising this student, I pushed them to open the essay with a story about being a Resident Assistant because it’s a less common experience that could make them standout, while also highlighting their advocacy, compassion, and community investment.
If you’re interested, you can find the outline I created for them at the bottom of Part 1.
And as a contrast to the introductions / hooks the AI produced, I wanted to show the introductory paragraph that this student and I created together:
Why this Version is Better:
1.) As of now, AI isn’t very good at writing hooks that you can use verbatim, which is something I wouldn’t condone ethically anyway.
2.) However, AI is good at helping you brainstorm ideas for hooks.
3.) AI can potentially give you a helpful template to then personalize on your own.
4.) The text and tone still must match your voice (and that’s hard to do).
5.) Make sure you have an experienced (human) editor in your corner.
6.) Before prompting the AI, talk with a human advisor about which experience(s) would be best to use as the opener of your personal statement.
7.) Once you have chosen the right experience(s), make sure to give the AI a strong, thorough prompt to ensure you get the best results.
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!
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.