The College Essay: Is Your Student Using ChatGPT?

Rose Horowitz
3 min readAug 29, 2023

Some Red Flags and How to Create a Stand-Out Composition

Tackling the College Essay

By Rose Horowitz

It’s the end of summer and you had counted on your student to finish the main essay for the Common Application.

Have you and a few friends read it but don’t think it is strong enough?

Perhaps you ask your child how they came to write it. They smile slyly and answer they turned to ChatGPT for help.

Knowing how easy it is to use, I asked ChatGPT to help me write a 650-word essay based on this prompt: When I was a student, I faced significant challenges in relating to my peers and getting along in school. Help me write an essay about how that has affected me and what I learned from the experience.

Here’s the first paragraph responding to my prompt from ChatGPT:

“As a former student, I encountered substantial obstacles in relating to my peers and fitting into the social dynamics of school. These challenges not only shaped my educational journey but also had a profound impact on my personal growth and self-discovery. Through perseverance and introspection, I was able to transform these challenges into valuable life lessons that have guided me to embrace differences, fostering an inclusive and empathetic perspective.”

Red flags:

-Your child is not a former student.

-How is this particular to your child? It’s pretty universal all students have “encountered obstacles” … “fitting into the social dynamics of school.”

Contrast that hook with the one I helped a student on the autism spectrum write:

“When I was four years old, I moved into a new house. It seemed so big that when I approached the door for the first time, I hesitated. The house loomed over me like a mountain.

But I was excited and followed my parents into the house. I immediately dashed to the staircase to find my bedroom. The hardwood creaked beneath my feet but halfway up, I dropped to my knees. Suddenly, I remembered my fear of heights.”

I asked the student how he developed a fear of heights, which led to him telling me that he learned in…

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Rose Horowitz

Pulitzer-nominated Journalist. Founder & Host, #WomenToFollow https://bit.ly/2JwQWgV. Published: @nytimes @forbes