Colleges and universities faced a starkly different admissions process this year with the end of affirmative action and the rise of new generative AI tools like ChatGPT. With the Common Application opening its digital doors on August 1st, a fresh roll of applications is surging, and institutions are flexing their adaptability.
As this marks the first admissions cycle to take into account the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Common App and institutions alike found ways to comply while leaving avenues open for students to discuss their race and ethnicity, allowing institutions to maintain their commitment to diversity.
“We will follow the law,” wrote University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom in a statement on changing admissions practices. “We will also do everything within our legal authority to recruit and admit a class of students who are diverse across every possible dimension and to make every student feel welcome and included at UVA.”
Among the Common App’s eight pre-selected essay questions students can choose from, the first reads, “Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
Aside from questions listed on the Common App, some institutions included supplemental questions to reflect their desire for a diverse student cohort. For example, Amherst College shared a statement from its Board of Trustees on the importance of forging different perspectives at the beginning of an essay prompt, and it proceeded to ask, “In what ways could your unique experiences enhance our understanding of our nation and our world?”
Affirmative action side effects
The ethics of legacy admissions have also risen in importance since the end of affirmative action, and some institutions have attempted to address it in their applications.
For example, the University of Virginia mentioned that it would consider students’ applications that discuss how race and ethnicity informed their experience so long as it is conducive to exemplifying their unique assets. The flagship school also included an optional essay that “give[s] all students—not only, for example, the children of our graduates, but also the descendants of ancestors who labored at the University, as well as those with other relationships—the chance to tell their unique stories.”
While Naropa University in Colorado does not mention legacy admissions specifically, it opted to mention “the unhealthy tension that many exclusionary admission practices nationwide cause students and their families.” It plans to alleviate this tension by “emphasizing diversity and inclusion, ” reflecting “the true nature of contemplative education.”
Artificial (Intelligence) essays
Despite one in seven incoming freshmen reportedly using AI to help write their college essays, Wesleyan University in Connecticut took a laissez-faire approach in addressing the disruptive technology in their Common App portal. They stated that while they recognize tools like ChatGPT, they expect students’ answers to be authentically theirs and reflective of their abilities.
Arizona State University may be signaling a new institutional approach to ChatGPT. Today, the university’s law school announced that it would soon promote the use of AI tools for students crafting their admissions materials, believing that allowing students to use it might promote accessibility among college applications, according to AZ Central.
“We want to level the playing field and provide students with access to many tools,” said Stacy Leeds, dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “Some applicants hire third-party consultants to assist with their law school applications to several law schools. AI is a new tool that is more accessible to every applicant, and many online tools are free to anyone with internet access.”