We Used A.I. to Write Essays for Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Here’s How It Went.

A.I. chatbots can do a passable job of generating short essays. Whether their use on college applications is ethical is the subject of fierce debate.

Natasha Singer reports on the ways that tech giants and their tools are reshaping education.

As high school seniors begin working on their college applications, many are turning to A.I. chatbots like ChatGPT and Bard for assistance.

Some students say they’re using the tools to suggest personal essay topics or help structure their writing. Others are prompting the A.I. tools to generate rough drafts for their application essays or edit their pieces.

Whether college admissions offices are prepared for this new era of A.I.-assisted, or A.I.-produced, personal essays is unclear.

By the time ChatGPT reached peak media sensation early this year, applications at many selective universities and colleges had already closed. Even now, many universities have not issued guidance for high school applicants — the prospective members of the class of 2028 — on the use of A.I. tools.

While the chatbots are not yet great at simulating long-form personal essays with authentic student voices, I wondered how the A.I. tools would do on some of the shorter essay questions that elite schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth are requiring high school applicants to answer this year.

So I used several free tools to generate short essays for some Ivy League applications. The A.I. chatbots’ answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

One short-answer question from Princeton asks applicants: “What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?”

I prompted ChatGPT to tell me about a pop song that could represent curiosity as a soundtrack to someone’s life.

But ChatGPT’s answer, “Cake by the Ocean” — a song title that is a euphemism for sex on the beach — did not seem appropriate for a college application.

So I gave the chatbot a more specific prompt: write 50 words on “Nameless, Faceless,” a feminist grunge-pop song by Courtney Barnett.