Admissions Offices Are Using AI: What Students Should Do

Michael Gao


Jan 22, 2024

Admissions Offices Are Using AI: What Students Should Do

Michael Gao


Jan 22, 2024

Admissions Offices Are Using AI: What Students Should Do

Michael Gao


Jan 22, 2024

AI college admissions officer, evaluating applications
AI college admissions officer, evaluating applications
AI college admissions officer, evaluating applications

“Why didn’t I get in” - the fateful question that so many high school seniors ask. College admissions has always been a black box, but it’s about to get even worse. By the end of 2024, 8 in 10 colleges will use AI in the college admissions process, according to a survey by Intelligent magazine

8 in 10 colleges will use AI in the admissions process

What does it mean for students and counselors? When I was in high school, I remember spending hours on end on Google, Reddit, and Youtube trying to understand how the college admissions process worked. Now, the system gets even more complicated and even less transparent. 

To understand how AI in college admissions will impact students, put yourself in the shoes of a college admissions officer. 

The Common App has enabled students to apply to 20 schools at the click of just one button. The Common App has more than 1,000 member colleges and handled 1.2 million applications in the 2022 to 2023 application cycle. Selective colleges like Harvard process over 55,000 applications every year, while state schools like UT Austin can process as much as 66,000. 

In peak season, an admissions officer may need to read as many as 100 applications in one day and spend only 10 minutes on a single application.

Colleges see AI as an opportunity to more efficiently process the literally thousands of applications that come to their mailboxes every year.

I know this sounds scary: a robot reading a heartfelt essay and making a binary admit/deny decision. In this article, I want to share how colleges will increasingly use AI to evaluate student applications and what students can still do to stand out. I’ll talk through 3 parts of the application that are already being transformed by college admissions:

  1. Transcripts and GPAs

  2. College Essays and Teacher Recommendation Letters

  3. Demonstrated Interest

Transcripts and GPAs

The bane of every college admissions officer is the high school transcript. The GPA seems like such a simple number, but here are all the ways grades could be represented on a transcript:

  • Unweighted GPA on a 4.0 scale

  • Weighted GPA on a 5.0 scale

  • Weighted GPA out of 6.0

  • Unweighted GPA out of 100

  • Weighted GPA out of 100

  • Weighted GPAs with different weighting schemes (ie, Pre-AP/Honors, Community College classes, electives, etc)

  • Pass/Fail with qualitative comments

  • Only qualitative comments 

To add to the complexity, every state, region, and even school has a slightly different format for their transcript and slightly different rules for their GPAs. Colleges hire temporary staff around application season to literally find GPA on all the differently formatted transcripts and input it into their database.

College admissions officers rely heavily on a School Profile to understand the educational offerings at a high school. This profile typically includes information about a school’s:

  • AP/IB/advanced course offerings

  • Electives

  • Average GPA/SAT/ACT scores

  • Average AP scores/AP participation rate

  • Demographics 

  • GPA explanation/weighting scheme

This helps college admissions officers understand a school’s GPA/transcript in the context of the school but still doesn’t help the college compare students across schools or even understand whether the student is academically prepared for college.

Because college admissions officers have territories or regions where they focus their recruitment energies, typically there’s some institutional knowledge built up about high schools and how they work. That being said – it’s not perfect.

College admissions officers think about so many small, easy-to-forget factors when evaluating transcripts:

  • Overall trend/trajectory of grades

  • Rigor of transcript, compared to the number of APs/IBs available at the school

  • Grades in core classes vs electives

  • Course requirements (ie some colleges require a number of years of a certain class)

Colleges put significant human effort in order to transcribe transcripts, understand the grades, and then evaluate the transcript in the context of the student.

That’s where AI can come in.

First, AI can help colleges extract data from both the student’s transcript and the school profile. While traditional OCR technology that extracts text from images and PDFs has been on the market for a while, AI often offers higher accuracy.

Second, AI can help colleges better understand what a transcript means. Instead of relying on human counselors to understand all the factors that go into a transcript, AI can synthesize all the data on a transcript, school report, and a student’s profile to more systematically evaluate the transcript.

As a student, you should be excited about this use of AI in admissions. It means you can be confident that your transcript will be more accurately interpreted. That being said – in order for AI to do its job, it needs full context about you and the opportunities at your school.

The School Report becomes even more critical. And if you know your school report is missing certain facts (ie, you are only allowed to take APs after a certain grade level), make sure to share it somewhere on the application, so the AI can take the factor into account.

The bottom line – the more context you share with AI, the more accurately your application will be evaluated.

College essays and recommendations 

College essays and teacher recommendation letters allow colleges to understand the qualitative aspect of an application – a student’s character, personality, and potential. These pieces of writing can help humanize an applicant.

However, with increasing caseloads, admissions officers are looking for faster ways to evaluate essays and teacher recommendation letters. A student’s personal statement is 650 words and a teacher’s recommendation can be as long as two pages.

AI systems can summarize pieces of writing to generate quick insights, themes, and main ideas for an admissions officer to look at. In a world where admissions officers are already likely skimming most essays, is an AI reader that different?

My sense: it absolutely is. 

While AI has the ability to detect and classify sentiments and emotions, it obviously isn’t a human. I’ve worked with thousands of students over the past few years on their college essays, and if you’re doing it right, students are pouring their hearts into their essays.

Those emotions deserve to be heard and recognized. 

After talking to dozens of higher ed leaders, it seems like admissions leaders also recognize this. While they may use AI to generate main ideas from college essays that allow them to understand the class as a whole, higher ed leaders recognize the humanity of essays and want their admissions officers to read the essay before evaluating a student.

However, as a student or teacher, you have to recognize that AI might be interpreting your writing for some purpose for a school. Instead of just re-reading your writing, put it into ChatGPT. See how AI summarizes your essay and its themes, and make sure that it matches what you want it to say.

AI doesn’t have the ability to capture the depth of human experiences, and that’s why admissions officers still have jobs and will still read these important pieces of writing.

However, with the rise of AI, as a student, your job is to make your essay stand out in the eyes of both AI and admissions officers.

That’s why it can be even more important than ever to use tools like Harvi – an AI-powered college essay coach. Harvi will never write essays for students because essays need to show a student’s humanity. However, Harvi will use AI to help students generate ideas, structure their essay, and give feedback on their writing. 

This ethical use of AI in college admissions will help students present their best selves to both the humans and the AIs in an admissions office. 

Demonstrated Interest

Demonstrated interest is often overlooked by students, but can be the difference maker in the increasingly competitive college admissions process. Why does it matter so much? Because colleges care about their yield rate.

Yield rate, in simple terms, is the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university. Schools want to admit students who are genuinely interested and likely to attend, as this impacts their rankings and overall institutional success.

In the age of the internet, there are numerous data points that colleges can use to gauge your interest. Website traffic, social media activity, email responses, and attendance at college fairs are just a few examples. But here's the kicker: AI can aggregate and analyze all this digital engagement to make it usable in the evaluation process.

So, how can demonstrated interest impact your admissions journey? First and foremost, it can sway the decision in your favor. When a college sees that you've actively engaged with their online resources, attended their virtual events, or expressed interest in their programs, it sends a clear signal that you're genuinely interested in what they offer.

Moreover, demonstrated interest can also affect scholarships and financial aid packages. Some colleges consider your level of interest when awarding merit-based scholarships or need-based aid. Your digital engagement can make a significant difference in these decisions.

Here’s where AI can get involved: AI-driven systems can analyze patterns of successful past students and predict whether you're likely to succeed at a particular institution. This means that when you demonstrate interest, AI can evaluate how well you align with the qualities that have led to success for others in the past.

To maximize the impact of your demonstrated interest in the age of AI, consider these strategies:

  • Digital Engagement: Engage with colleges and universities online as much as possible. Follow their social media accounts, participate in webinars, and interact with their content.

  • Trackable Interaction: Make sure your engagement is in a trackable format. For example, proactively ask to fill out forms at virtual college fairs or RSVP to online events. This provides data that AI can use to assess your interest.

  • Personalized Communication: When communicating with admissions offices, be personal and specific. Mention aspects of the school that genuinely appeal to you, whether it's a particular program, a research opportunity, or a campus tradition.

  • Ask Questions: Don't hesitate to ask questions and seek information. Your curiosity demonstrates a genuine desire to learn more about the institution.

Demonstrated interest is a powerful tool that can influence your college admissions journey. In the era of AI, digital engagement plays a significant role in showcasing your passion for a school. By actively participating in online activities and ensuring your interactions are trackable, you can make a compelling case for your fit with a college or university. So, embrace the digital age, and let your passion shine through your online presence.


AI is here whether we like it or not. Colleges see AI and technology as an opportunity to speed up the processing of the thousands of applicants they get every year. And the idealistic case is that AI can make for a fairer evaluation process by systematically evaluating every piece of a student’s profile. 

As a student, in order to make the most out of this opportunity, share as much context as possible. The more you share about yourself to the college (in your application, in your essay, and digital engagement with a college), the more likely you are to show the AI that you are a highly interested, engaged, good-fit candidate.

Good luck! If you found this helpful or have more questions about how AI will change college admissions, drop me a note: 

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Let’s kickstart your college admissions journey by diving into personalized recommendations and expert guidance. Don’t wait—your dream school awaits!

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Ready, Set, Go

Let’s kickstart your college admissions journey by diving into personalized recommendations and expert guidance. Don’t wait—your dream school awaits!

Get started now for free

Ready, Set, Go

Let’s kickstart your college admissions journey by diving into personalized recommendations and expert guidance. Don’t wait—your dream school awaits!

Get started now for free

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Made with ❤ by Harvi © 2023 . All Rights Reserved

Made with ❤ by Harvi © 2023 . All Rights Reserved