AI and ChatGPT: How should counsellors respond?

Posted on 21st March 2023

AI and ChatGPT: How should college counsellors respond? (blog 2 of 2 on ChatGPT) 

The realm of AI is expanding quickly, with the new version of ChatGPT, GPT 4, having been released last week. Whilst AI tools like these can be seen to challenge the reliability of the essay as university-level assessment, and may also, in time, challenge the college application essay (as discussed in our first blog on the topic here) there seem to be more potential positive aspects of these technologies than negatives. These technologies look to be valuable tools, helping educators create lessons and tasks, analyse and respond to student data, and serve as a tool for editing and perhaps even counselling.

One way these tools could help college counsellors is by helping them gain insights from student data, like past student college destinations and the profiles of the students admitted to those colleges year by year. Also helpful to counsellors might be prompting students to use the chat bot to talk through questions about what they want from their college experiences, opening up the idea of fit. This could be particularly useful to students who are shy of opening up about their wants to teachers and parents.

Additionally, writers have worked with editors, and students with college counsellors, for years; the AI can serve as such a helpful tool by making suggestions and editing, just as college counsellors do! This could potentially widen access to counselling. A study carried out by the Wysa counselling app is promising: a peer-reviewed study showed that emotional bonds with the Wysa digital therapist were equivalent to human therapist relationships. So those who argue rightly that successful college counselling has a relational, pastoral element can be reassured.

It’s also prudent to think about what other elements might gain importance in students’ applications, if the application essay did eventually lose relevance. In the Forbes article quoted in our previous blog, Emma Whitford mentions that due to the shift in recent years towards test-optional policies, application essays have become more important. If the essays lose importance, then perhaps we will see more colleges return to requiring the tests. Additionally, the SAT has mentioned that it may revert to requiring the writing section, which could provide a space in an application for a timed, supervised essay that cannot be written by AI.

Another thing to consider is, without the essay, which aspects of the application would remain authentic and personal; these might increase in importance, should the essay (the most personal aspect of the college application) be phased out. Interviews for US colleges are currently much less important and formal than those for UK colleges like Oxbridge. But, in lieu of the essay, interviews could be the sole opportunity for applicants to share their identity. A new tool that occupies a space between personal and technological is Initial View, a tool that colleges can purchase that allows students to upload a video of themselves to their application. Should the essay lose relevance, we may see more colleges choosing to purchase Initial View and similar tools.

Students will likely have their own questions about the new technology, and it’s important for them to know that ChatGPT may seem like a way for writing-shy students to bypass the essay element of US applications, but aside from the ethical factors, a genuine, emotional student essay will always add much more value to a student’s application than the general sorts of essays generated by ChatGPT. Writing US college essays can be a great experience for students to get more comfortable with writing, and as an exercise to find out more about their own personal values. Similarly, if students have available to them other forms of support–like teacher or counsellor support–the support of AI is likely to work best alongside such support. For example, having specialist input on something like a college list after exploring options with AI is still very valuable.

Taking a moderate view of AI advances allows us to view them not as threats to education but as useful tools, if approached with curiosity and caution. For educators and counsellors, there are many potential uses for the new AI, like generating insights and resources based on student data, and counselling and editing functions that could serve underresourced pupils. Humanities and technology need not be opposed forces at odds with one another, or unlikely and unwilling allies; they have been successfully collaborating for years, and we are excited to see where these collaborations will lead.

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