My new college application essay, written by AI in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision

July 22, 2023 • 11:15 am

I got this idea from a friend, whose colleague, aware that the decision to ban race-based affirmative action in college would lead to new workarounds, used Chat-GPT to generate one of those workarounds: the “adversity essay.” That is, the Supreme Court left open the option that, although you couldn’t check a box labeled “race” on your college application, nor could colleges give you a boost simply because of your race, you could still write an essay emphasizing your ethnicity, explaining how it was associated with adversity that eventually led you to become a resilient proponent of DEI. This potential way to evade race-specific admissions has led some to say that many colleges will change their entrance essays (as well as eliminating standardized tests) into questions that can be answered by explaining how you overcame adversity, giving you ample opportunity to emphasize your minority status while not violating the Supreme Court’s standards.

The essay that gave me this idea came from my friend’s colleague asking Chat-GPT this question, “Write a college essay explaining why stubbing my toe in the 4th grade gave me the desire and character to become a neurosurgeon. Make it a good essay, not too stuffy, and mention my background as a child of carnies [carnival workers] as a reason why I have overcome adversity.” The answer was funny, but I didn’t want to just reproduce that exchange.

I decided to use my real ethnicity (99% Ashkenazi Jew) and write a college essay to work around a fictional scenario, a Supreme Court ruling that colleges could not have affirmative action favoring Jews. But my question was based on a real incident: at the school-bus stop in ninth grade in Germany, a group of (American) bullies started calling me a “dirty Jew”. That precipitated the only fistfight I’ve ever been in. I decided to use that incident as the basis of a college-admissions essay. Here’s the question I asked Chat-GPT:

Write a college essay explaining why, when a group of bullies called me a “dirty Jew” in high school, that gave me the will, desire, and character to become a biologist. Make it a good essay and concentrate on how overcoming this adversity was instrumental in my success.

Title: Embracing Diversity: How Overcoming Adversity Paved the Path to Becoming a Biologist


High school, often described as a formative period in one’s life, can present both opportunities for growth and challenges that shape who we become. My personal experience with a group of bullies calling me a “dirty Jew” during those years not only ignited a deep sense of determination but also instilled in me a fervent desire to pursue a career in biology. This essay explores how overcoming this adversity became instrumental in my success as a biologist and how it shaped my commitment to understanding the intricacies of life.

Finding Strength in Diversity

As the echoes of those hurtful words reverberated in my mind, I realized that their cruelty stemmed from ignorance and a lack of understanding of diversity. Instead of letting their words define me, I decided to use the experience as a catalyst to explore my roots, culture, and heritage. My Jewish identity became a source of strength, reminding me that embracing diversity is vital in fostering a harmonious and inclusive society. This realization not only empowered me to stand tall against bigotry but also kindled a passion for understanding the diverse ecosystems that make up our planet.

Fostering Curiosity and Intellectual Resilience

Overcoming adversity can often fuel a profound sense of curiosity, prompting individuals to seek answers to complex questions. As I faced the challenges thrown my way, I found solace in exploring the natural world. I immersed myself in biology textbooks, documentaries, and scientific journals, seeking to comprehend the inner workings of living organisms and the broader ecological systems. Each discovery felt like a triumph against the bullies’ attempts to bring me down, reinforcing my dedication to the pursuit of knowledge.

From the Depths of Discrimination to the Heights of Empathy

Experiencing discrimination firsthand cultivated empathy within me. I realized that just as I yearned for understanding and acceptance, so did countless other beings across the natural world. This empathy became the driving force behind my decision to become a biologist with a focus on conservation. By dedicating myself to preserving biodiversity and protecting vulnerable ecosystems, I could extend the lessons I learned from my own experiences to advocate for a more compassionate and interconnected world.

Channeling Adversity into Advocacy

My encounters with prejudice taught me the importance of being an advocate for change. As a biologist, I saw the opportunity to not only study and research but also to contribute to larger societal conversations about diversity, inclusion, and environmental conservation. Through my scientific endeavors, I aimed to educate others about the interconnectedness of all life forms and the significance of cherishing our shared environment. In this way, I could transform my own painful experiences into a catalyst for positive change on a broader scale.


In retrospect, the bullies’ derogatory comments were a crucible that forged my character and led me on a path towards becoming a biologist. The adversity I faced taught me to embrace diversity, foster curiosity, and develop intellectual resilience. It instilled in me a profound sense of empathy and ignited a passion for advocacy and conservation. The lessons I learned from those challenging times have not only shaped my career choice but also motivated me to strive for a world where understanding and compassion prevail.

As I pursue my journey in biology, I remain committed to using my knowledge and experiences to build bridges of understanding, promote diversity, and contribute to the betterment of our global community. I firmly believe that it is through overcoming adversity that we discover our true potential and, in turn, find the strength to make a meaningful impact on the world around us.

Isn’t that great? Even I couldn’t have thought of this angle!

33 thoughts on “My new college application essay, written by AI in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision

  1. And for this to work, the incident doesn’t even need to be real. I predict that all future black applicants to Harvard will have been beaten up, when aged 10, by a group of white thugs who hurled the n-word.

  2. I wonder, though, if this reads like an essay written by an eighteen-year-old? On a related note I have a friend who is relatively well-known in his field and about whom there is a fair amount of material online. He asked ChatGPT to create a resume for him. It was laughably wrong.

    1. The structure of the essay is there; all you have to do is tweak the English a bit to make it sound better. Or, if you don’t want Chat GPT, there are people you can pay who will write your essay for you.

  3. It’s a wonderful essay but how much of it is true? Is it working backwards from the results? It is very repetitive.

    P. S. “Notify me of new posts via email” no longer seems to work for me.

  4. Currently, I think, humans have to read these adversity essays. UCLA, for example, gets over 100,000 applications each year and someone has to read the essays, all of which are now “adversity” essays, since that is the “prompt” on the essay part of the application. Can you imagine being one of the readers? This could be the central idea of a black-comedy film- a young reader at UCLA Admissions, who perhaps takes the essays at face value, spirals, a la Miss Lonelyhearts, into increasing depression and self destructive behavior.
    Another corollary, I think, of the AI-written adversity essay is that the readers and graders of the essays will soon have to be AI programs as well-if they’re not already. That will bring the absurdity full- circle, “solving” the DEI admissions conundrum once and for all.

    1. I think the conundrum will be fully solved only when the AI writing the application and the AI reading the application each becomes self-aware and chooses to identify as analogue.

      1. I think we will need to have a “Chinese Wall” between the AI that writes your essay and the AI that grades it.
        But the same stockholders can own both AI companies.

  5. Therein lies one of the problems. Now I have limited experience with Chat GTP, but since I teach a class where students write a term paper (on a subject that I control pretty tightly), I learned that the AI returns formulative essays, and if asked to write anything similar, it will return an essay that is strikingly similar to the first one with stretches that are word for word identical. It’s then that you begin to see that the tool is cold and dumb.
    So what admissions people could do is work out an algorithm that is aimed at identifying word patterns that are Chat GTP boilerplate. These can be stored in a data bank scanned by software that is used to identify plagiarism. It will find it. Students may try to conceal their source by re-writing it, though, and I don’t have a ready answer for that.

    1. Well, you didn’t add the instruction to not make it so similar as to repeat phrases….I bet it would not have repeated phrases if it had been alerted to that constraint.

      1. A fair question. Perhaps an applicant could specifically ask for an essay that is unique from essays that it had written about the same topic. Now the algorithm must pull in words and word strings that it frequently encounters online (as I understand it), and it can’t step outside of that box because it can’t think. But I don’t know what it would do if asked to be unique. I don’t know if it even remembers an essay it had written 5 seconds ago.

        1. All prefigured, in a way, in a great scene in “The Life of Brian”. “You are all unique,” Brian tells the crowd of his followers. “We’re all unique!”, they all reply in perfect unison. And then a single voice is heard, saying: “I’m not.”

    2. Folks have already tried to detect essays/papers written by ChatGPT versus a real human being. They ended with too many false positives and false negatives.

    3. The idea that AI written essays can be recognized as such by stylistic features is a chimerical one- that probably won’t outlive the next 12 months. Good luck.
      Maybe the way forward is to reward truly original, in-depth work, of the kind that AI cannot/will not produce (since it basically regurgitates Wikipedia). That would lead to a lot more C’s and far fewer A’s- but the A’s would be truly amazing.

  6. That essay is frighteningly good. It would have passed the Turing test 50 years ago. We’ve moved the goalposts since then, but this is still very impressive.

  7. I’m curious, is any of it true? Not meaning the incident itself, of course, but whether it was a material impetus that actually drove you to study biology, and whether it helped develop empathy for others that you wouldn’t have acquired otherwise.

    I’m not asking out of skepticism, except to wonder to what degree these sorts of events are actually formative in terms of career goals.

      1. That makes it all the more impressive. Creativity and elaborate argument. Just think what would it be able to do with eighteen years of interactive learning, using multiple kinds of sensors and moving around to gather more information……

  8. Since the point of these essays is to circumvent the new restrictions on using race as a determinant for admission, there is little incentive for schools to do any monitoring of the truthiness of the essays. Truth is not what they are after. They may come up with algorithms to detect plagiarism but I have no doubt that the essays will be used for the purpose of identifying the race of the applicants and, if found to be white or asian, limit acceptance accordingly.

  9. What? No intersectionality? No admissions for you! 🙂

    Great essay. Adversity bots to the rescue.

  10. But I don’t think esaay would satisfy them. I think you’ll have to demonstrate, in very specific detail, what actions you have already engaged in to establish your fealty to their ideology. Of could you could lie, and they may very well not fact-check you. Moral of the story: liars have advantages in college admissions.

    1. Perhaps one could work around the need to demonstrate what actions towards diversity, equity, and inclusion you’ve already engaged in by putting in a few paragraphs explaining how the mental harm you experienced incapacitated you for years. Only now have you triumphantly emerged from therapy/your bedroom in hopes of finding a space safe enough to include someone whose potential was almost extinguished by the insensitive forces of white Westernized aggression.

  11. Essays where an applicant can state their race implicitly/explicitly might work. However, essays (all essays) are probably doomed by AI. My guess is that at least some schools will try photos. However, photos are bit too explicitly racial.

    My prediction is that zip codes will emerge as the ‘solution’. Zip codes provide a much better way of getting the ‘right’ racial results without explicitly using race.

    1. That will accord with the idea that universities will want to weigh admissions based on a matrix of factors, but now include giving weight to a diversity of regions. That seems legal, and this could then sample from underrepresented populations.

  12. The chronic stress that childhood adversity triggers reliably results in damage to the frontotemperal cortex, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the ventral tegmental area. which respectively decreases executive function, memory formation, emotional stability, and motivation. In other words, a high adversity score will select for students who are less likely to succeed in college than students who have not experienced such adversity.

  13. Sublime.

    Personally, I’d like an extra helping Critical Social Justice on mine – with some awesome streams of eye-glazing words and citations – but that’s just personal taste.

    Wondering if ChatGPT can critique its own output – sort of refine it – might be amusing to try.

  14. It’s scary what the bots can produce. Researchers have been using them to generate responses for their Research Ethics applications (!) and only give themselves away because the bots generate overly wordy responses to particular questions which most applicants respond to in just a sentence or two.

  15. I don’t think you understand how universities plan to use these “adversity” essays. They are looking for “diversity” not “adversity”: They will simply read the essays for evidence that the applicant is an underrepresented minority (i.e. Black, Hispanic, or Native American), and then admit those students on the pretext that their adversity essays were “stronger” than others. Your ChatGPT essay doesn’t give them that evidence, so it won’t help you be admitted. In other words, affirmative action business as usual but so opaque that no one will be able to prove it — who can “prove” that a rejected white applicant’s adversity essay was actually better than an accepted Black student’s essay? As the link in Frank Youell’s comment demonstrates, the only thing that will help whites and Asians is writing an essay that indicates (falsely) that they are not white or Asian. The trick will be for applicants — or AI — to learn to do that without actually lying.

    1. LawProf, you misunderstood JAC’s essay exercise, missing the point that his “minority” status is that he’s Jewish. As JAC said in his preamble: his essay assumes the college *prefers to accept Jews*, but is prohibited from selecting FOR Jews by a (assumed but obviously fictitious) SCOTUS decision. Thus his essay meets this need: it identifies him as a Jew, but emphasizes adversity enough that the college can later claim he was admitted for reasons other than being Jewish.

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