How Do Admissions Offices Use AI?

How Do Admissions Offices Use AI? (Getty Images)

AI is proliferating in almost every industry and field you can think of and that includes education. A growing number of college professors are embracing tools like ChaptGPT in the classroom. Meanwhile, their admissions colleagues are also incorporating the technology in their decision-making processes, with a 2023 Intelligent survey finding that 50% of higher education admissions offices are using AI. 

The number is expected to rise to more than 80% in 2024. 

But as AI uptake increases in admissions, so does concern among college applicants and their families who might worry about the technology’s potential impact. While the long-term use of the technology and its implications is still being determined, experts told the U.S. News and World Report how it’s being used today and how it might be used in the future. 

How is AI being used in admissions today?

In most offices, AI is being used to automate certain aspects of the admissions process and to ease administrative burden from officers facing high volumes of applications. According to the Intelligent survey, the most common uses are to review recommendation letters and transcripts. It’s also usd to communicate with applicants through chatbots, automate messaging, to review personal essays and to conduct interviews. 

As for whether AI makes “final” admissions decisions for schools, is a moot point. Selective schools with acceptance rates below 10% require a nuanced application evaluation and final decisions made by humans. Schools that have made decisions using a formula or rubric in the past have begun using AI to make initial screening decisions to eliminate applications that don’t qualify automatically. 

AI has helped professionals turn an already “very algorithmic” process into an automated one, said Diane Gayeski, professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College in New York. This helps admissions counselors optimize their time, Rick Clark, assistant vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Institute of Technology, shared.

“If you can have an AI model run through and then a human just sort of spot checks it, and it can go ahead and make those decisions, that’s just going to let your team focus on what’s viable or important,” said Clark. 

How will AI be used in future college admissions?

Among many other possibilities, schools may begin using AI to glean information from high school transcripts to identify an applicant’s grades in certain disciplines. AI tools might also make it easier for admissions officers to locate and sort grades in specific courses without having to repeatedly refer to the transcript. 

“That’s where, I think, absolutely in the year ahead, there’s going to be solutions for eliminating the need for human touch on that kind of thing,” Clark said. “None of that really needs to be done by a human going forward because that’s what AI is skilled at. Training it to locate and populate those types of fields is where it will become, very soon, part of our review process but not a decision-making process.”

Some professionals believe AI can help reduce bias in the admissions process. According to the intelligent survey,  56% of those already using it and 38% of those who plan to use it believe this. Gayeski just hopes more good will come from it than bad.

The process of AI is kind of illuminating because if it makes people actually define their criteria better and if it could make it more transparent to the public, I think that would be helpful,” she said. 

Noah Johnson (he/him/his) is a Chicago-based journalist. Follow him on X: @noahwritestoo.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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