Students today have now had access to the AI tool ChatGPT for the better part of a year. Early surveys showed that even by January 2023, just two months after ChatGPT’s release, 30% of college students were using it to do their written homework assignments.

Now that a new academic year is on the horizon, we wanted to find out how many students are using ChatGPT to write their college application essays. In July, surveyed 749 college-bound high school seniors and incoming college freshmen, 40% of whom have used ChatGPT in the past 6 months.

Key findings:

  • 10% of college applicants are using ChatGPT to write their college essays
  • 72% of student ChatGPT users believe using ChatGPT to apply for college is cheating

10% of College Applicants Are Using ChatGPT to Write Their College Essays

Overall, 1 in 10 students surveyed said they had used ChatGPT or are likely to use ChatGPT to write their college application essays.’s Higher Education and Career Advisor, Professor Diane Gayeski of Ithaca College, explains why she believes this may be standard practice in years to come.

“Tools like ChatGPT are going to be as common as using Google to look up information or a spreadsheet to calculate formulas or the spell checker in word processing to catch your errors,” Gayeski says. “Its use can’t really be detected. So any discussion about whether it’s ‘moral’ or if it should be somehow outlawed or prevented is not relevant,” Gayeski explains.

1 in 7 Freshmen ChatGPT Users Had AI Write Their Application Essays

Among the 40% of total students who have used ChatGPT in the past six months, 14% of incoming college freshmen say they used AI to write their college essays. Of this group, 90% say the content of the essays was somewhat or very truthful, while 10% admit the content was not very or not at all truthful.

Additionally, 95% of students in this group say the essays written by ChatGPT required some or a lot of editing, while 5% say they did a little bit of editing. No respondents said they did not edit their ChatGPT-written essays at all.

55% Who Applied Using ChatGPT Are Going to Their Top Choice of School

Fifty-five percent of college freshmen who wrote their essays using ChatGPT say they are attending their number one choice of school. Ninety percent of students in this group also somewhat or strongly believe that using ChatGPT to write their essays helped them get accepted into college.

1 in 3 College-Bound ChatGPT Users Plan to Use AI to Write Their Essays

Thirty-four percent of college-bound high school seniors who use ChatGPT say they are somewhat or very likely to use this tool to write their college essays.

Nearly 40% of all student ChatGPT users surveyed say they used ChatGPT somewhat or very frequently to do their homework this past academic year. Since ChatGPT was available for most of the past school year, it makes sense that this year a greater percentage of students applying for college plan to use it compared to last year.

Additionally, 72% of all student ChatGPT users surveyed agreed that using ChatGPT to write college application essays is cheating.

Is Using ChatGPT Really Cheating? An Expert’s Take on ChatGPT and College Essays

Professor Gayeski offers further insight on the use of ChatGPT when applying to college:

“Very few college applicants write their essays entirely by themselves,” Gayeski explains. “Most at least have some coaching from their parents or guidance counselors or an older relative who’s been through the process recently. Thousands of examples of essays and advice have been available online for several decades now.

“It’s pretty easy to spot the ones that don’t truly represent the applicant – they are bland and tend to all talk about the same things like overcoming shyness or dealing with a family illness, or how a service trip opened their eyes to world hunger. Relying simply on a tool like ChatGPT without doing any kind of editing or creating a robust set of prompts will never create anything that stands out.

“Admissions officers have no way of knowing whether applicants have help, nor whether what they write is actually true,” Gayeski continues. “They’re looking to see if there’s a spark that indicates that the applicant will be a good fit for the institution and perhaps a specific program of study, and if they will be a good contributor to the intellectual and social fabric.

“It can tell them whether the applicant has really explored and understood the institution and the major they’ve chosen. If there are questions in a student’s record, such as bad grades during their sophomore year, the essay can explain why. If their grades are wonderful in history and English but poor in math and science, and if they took elective classes in media production, the essay can point to why they have chosen to major in film and how their love of ancient history inspires them to create science fiction films based on old civilizations.

“If they want to go into occupational therapy, they can explain how caring for their grandmother led them to discover that they are good at working with the elderly. If they say that want to study psychology at your university because of its strong reputation in child psychology and the ability to work at the daycare center on campus, it indicates that they have a strong purpose and have actually read your materials or visited campus, and will be less likely to drop out because they didn’t understand what they were getting into.

“Using a tool like ChatGPT to help you write an essay, whether it’s for a college or job application or for homework or ‘real’ work is not cheating any more than having your mom look over your essay or looking at examples online is cheating,” says Gayeski. “ChatGPT is particularly good at overcoming writer’s block, and writing in a particular voice. Therefore, it’s useful to start by giving it a general prompt, and then critique what comes back and successively tweak the prompts.

“You could give it some interesting examples of how you’ve overcome obstacles or developed a passion for what you want to study in college. If it doesn’t sound like you, try to name and describe what your voice and style IS – that can give you some insights into your own personality that you could then highlight.

“So bottom line, I don’t feel like ChatGPT poses any additional questions or concerns for admission officers,” concludes Gayeski. “If anything, it narrows the gap between the students whose families can pay for tutors and admissions counselors who basically write essays and coach them for interviews – and those who don’t have that privilege.”


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish, via their partner Prodege, from July 15 – 21, 2023. In total, 749 students were surveyed. 40% (303 respondents) completed the full survey by passing through a screener to ensure they had used ChatGPT in the past six months.

All respondents who completed the full survey were screened to ensure they were between the ages of 16 and 20, currently a student, and have applied or plan to apply for college. Additionally, respondents had to identify as either a high school senior or a college freshman for the Fall 2023 semester. Please contact [email protected] for more information.