Exploring the Ethics of Using AI in the College Application Process

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Exploring the Ethics of Using AI in the College Application Process

Header- Navigating AI: Ethics in College Applications

Have you ever wondered how the increase in students using AI writing tools affects college applications? In our latest study, we explored the trends and impacts of AI writing assistance across various states and cities in the U.S., uncovering some surprising findings that could change how we view the college application process.

In this article, we’ll examine the prevalence of AI writing-related search terms to understand where the demand for these tools is highest across the U.S. We’ll also look at the perspectives of students and parents about using AI tools to craft compelling, attention-grabbing admissions essays. Our findings provide a comprehensive understanding of how AI writing tools are helping students with their college applications and how using them could make or break their chances of getting in.

Key Takeaways

  • 17% of students admit to leveraging AI for their college application essays, while nearly 1 in 5 of ongoing applicants plan to.
  • 1 in 4 know someone who used AI essay writing assistance and got into their top-choice school. Yet, 2 in 5 know someone flagged for AI use and missed admission into their dream school.
  • Nearly half of parents would allow their children to use AI tools to help write their college admissions essays.
  • 1 in 5 parents hope using AI for college admissions essays will give their child a competitive edge.
  • The following states are most interested in AI writing assistance: Utah, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas. 
  • The following cities are most interested in AI writing assistance: Miami, FL; Orlando, FL; Atlanta, GA; Buffalo, NY; and St. Louis, MO. 

Mapping Interest in AI Writing Tools

First, let’s see where the recent surge in AI writing assistance has been strongest across various states and cities in the U.S. We analyzed AI writing-related search trends across different cities and states spanning the year between October 2022 and September 2023 to determine AI hotspots.

To create the map above, we measured the prevalence of search terms like “AI essay writer,” “AI plagiarism checker,” and “AI grammar check” in all 50 states and in the 100 most populous U.S. cities. Below is a breakdown of which states and cities have searched for these terms the most and least.

Top 10 states searching for AI writing assistance the most:

  1. Utah
  2. Rhode Island
  3. New York
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Texas
  6. New Jersey
  7. California
  8. Connecticut
  9. Florida
  10. Vermont

Bottom 10 states searching for AI writing assistance the least: 

  1. West Virginia
  2. Ohio
  3. Missouri
  4. Michigan
  5. Minnesota
  6. Kentucky
  7. Montana
  8. Iowa
  9. South Dakota
  10. Wisconsin

Top 10 cities searching for AI writing assistance the most:

  1. Miami, Florida
  2. Orlando, Florida
  3. Atlanta, Georgia
  4. Buffalo, New York
  5. St. Louis, Missouri
  6. Tampa, Florida
  7. Cleveland, Ohio
  8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  9. Baltimore, Maryland
  10. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Let’s now look at the AI-related writing terms that people searched for the most in the past year to see what exactly they were looking for.

This image explores total search volume for AI writing terms over the last year.

Searches for “AI essay writer” in the U.S. have skyrocketed by 1,903% in the past year, along with a 755% increase in searches for the “best AI essay writer.” High instances of searches like these were not confined to any specific region, but six of the top 10 states with the most searches were on the East Coast (Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont). Florida was home to more top cities making the most of these searches than any other state, with Miami, Orlando, and Tampa all making the top 10.

The Student Perspective

In this section, we’ll explore how students are using AI tools to help them get into colleges. Is AI helping students write better, or is it just writing for them?

This image explores students perspectives about using AI for college admissions assistance.

One-quarter of the students we surveyed shared that they know at least one person got into their chosen college thanks to using AI in the application process. That could be why 17% admitted to doing so themselves, and nearly 1 in 5 said they plan to. However, 2 in 5 also knew someone whose college application was flagged for AI use, causing them to miss out on admission to their dream school.

Despite the risks, two-thirds of students said leveraging AI gives them a competitive edge in the college application process. This sentiment was more prevalent among men, with 72% affirming this belief compared to 61% of women.

As for how they use AI for this purpose, most students we surveyed (65%) have used it to brainstorm and come up with ideas, while 43% used it to polish their writing skills, focusing on grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Overcoming writer’s block was another common use, with 33% of students turning to AI when they get stuck.

Although AI-generated writing can lack personality, many students who have used AI writing assistance are finding innovative ways to maintain their unique voices. Over one-quarter (29%) have ensured the final content resonated with their personal experiences, and slightly fewer (24%) at least took the time to revise and personalize their AI-generated content in some way.

Parents Weigh In

College applications can be competitive, and parents are coming to terms with the potential benefits of AI in crafting compelling, stand-out admissions essays. The next part of our survey goes into their perspectives on using AI assistance to help get their kids’ essays to the top of the admissions pile.

This image explores parents perspectives towards using AI to assist with admissions.

The college application process is often a family affair: 3 in 5 parents of prospective college students reported that they’ve helped or planned to help with college essays. This highlights the significant role parents play in supporting students’ academic aspirations.

But some parents might be keen to lean on AI for help these days; 1 in 5 of those we surveyed said they hope it can help give their child’s college admissions essay a competitive edge. Nearly half of parents said they’d let their child use AI tools to help craft their college admissions essays (47%), and more even wished they had access to similar tools during their school years (53%). Though many see the value in AI assistance for college applications, men (53%) were slightly more likely than women (44%) to say they’d allow their child to use it this way.

The Future of Applying for College Using AI

The popularity of using AI for writing assistance in the college application process is evident across various U.S. states and cities, especially Utah, Rhode Island, and New York, as well as Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta. Our data suggests that AI tools are becoming an increasingly common part of college applications, with students and parents alike recognizing the competitive edge they can provide.

But while AI can enhance the writing process, it’s important to maintain a personal touch and authenticity—and to make sure an application doesn’t get flagged for AI-generated content. In this new era of technology-assisted education, students need to find a balance between using AI tools for help and showcasing the unique voices and experiences that make their stories truly their own.


In our exploration of how AI is transforming the college essay admissions process, we analyzed search volumes from October 2022 to September 2023 related to AI writing assistance in all 50 states and in 100 U.S. cities with the highest populations. Additionally, we surveyed 1,104 participants: 462 were students who either applied to a university program in the past year or are currently in the application process, and 552 were parents of prospective college students.

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Fair Use Statement

Eager to discuss AI in the college application process with others? Feel free to share our findings here with your audience for noncommercial purposes. We ask that you include a link back to this page, providing your readers with full access to our detailed results and methodology.

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