Scholarship applications just got a whole lot easier with the introduction of Scholarply, an AI-powered tool developed by PhD students at the University of Toronto. Scholarply streamlines the process of finding scholarships and crafting application responses, making it a game-changer for students seeking financial support for their education.
Daniel Choi, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, found scholarship applications to be a tedious hassle. Like many students, he often neglected applying for scholarships due to the time and effort required. However, his perspective changed when he stumbled upon Scholarply while browsing Reddit.
Scholarply, conceived by U of T PhD students Aaron Tan, Angus Fung, and Haitong Wang, leverages the power of large language models, similar to the technology behind ChatGPT. It’s still in the development phase, but Choi eagerly signed up as a beta tester. The platform aims to make scholarship applications less daunting for students by automating and simplifying the process.
Founders’ struggles inspire innovation
The creators of Scholarply were driven by their own challenges in applying for scholarships. Tan emphasized the considerable time that scholarship applications consumed, leaving little room for academic pursuits. For many students, balancing the search for financial support with their studies is a daunting task.
Wang, an international student, faced additional hurdles. He noted that many scholarships were restricted to domestic students. Furthermore, as a non-native English speaker, he found it challenging to compete with native speakers in the application process. These personal experiences motivated the Scholarply team to develop a tool that could level the playing field for all students.
Scholarply simplifies the scholarship search by collecting essential user information. Upon sign-up, it requests details such as the user’s name, school, program, year of study, résumé, and academic transcript. With this information at its disposal, Scholarply scours the scholarship landscape to identify opportunities and generate responses to scholarship questions. In less than 10 minutes, the platform presents users with a list of scholarships they may qualify for.
However, not all scholarships were equally relevant. Some appeared distant from the user’s academic background and experiences. For instance, an English and book and media studies major received a suggestion related to logistics and supply chain management—a significant stretch from their résumé. Scholarply also demonstrated the ability to “hallucinate” responses, as it crafted a story for a user about overcoming a challenge that hadn’t occurred.
Choi, on the other hand, had a more tailored experience. Most of the scholarships recommended to him aligned with his profile, which is unsurprising given that Scholarply is currently optimized for STEM students like him.
Expanding the horizon
The Scholarply team recognizes the need to broaden its scholarship offerings to cater to a more diverse demographic of students. While it currently caters to STEM profiles, plans are in motion to expand its reach and relevance, ensuring that students from various academic backgrounds can benefit from the platform’s assistance.
Enhancing applications with AI
Scholarply offers valuable features to enhance scholarship applications. One of its key functions is providing feedback to users on how to improve their application essays. This guidance helps students present their qualifications more effectively.
Another noteworthy feature is the “ScholarScore,” a ranking that compares a user’s application against others using Scholarply. This metric provides users with a clear understanding of where their application stands in the competition. Armed with this feedback, users can refine their applications accordingly. Scholarply even allows users to submit revision requests for their applications, which the platform can then edit to meet the user’s specifications.
The ScholarScore is generated by Scholarply’s AI, which analyzes information sourced directly from scholarship providers. This includes specific requirements, desired candidate qualities, and company values. The AI evaluates each applicant from the perspective of the scholarship provider, aiming to offer a fair assessment that goes beyond the eloquence of language.
The ethical dilemma
While Scholarply presents a promising solution for students, it raises ethical concerns about the use of AI in scholarship applications. Scholarship providers and institutions are starting to question the authenticity of applications created with AI assistance.
U of T, for instance, explicitly states that students using generative AI (similar to ChatGPT) to produce content presented as their original work risk disqualification from scholarship eligibility. The use of generative AI for content creation is viewed as an academic offense.
Scholarship donors, such as The Jean Lumb Foundation, are also expressing reservations about AI’s role. They contemplate adding checkboxes to confirm the originality of essays to ensure that AI is not misused.
Aaron Tan, one of Scholarply’s creators, remains optimistic about AI’s impact on scholarship fairness. He believes that as AI becomes more widespread, applicants’ essays will become uniformly well-written. Consequently, the focus will shift towards evaluating the content rather than the eloquence of expression.
Balancing innovation and integrity
The crucial question is whether scholarship providers will embrace AI as a legitimate aid in the application process. The tension between innovation and maintaining the integrity of the application process is palpable.
The Scholarply team, aware of universities’ regulations regarding AI usage, asserts that their tool is intended as an assistant rather than a substitute for the applicant’s input. Tan likens Scholarply to a digital guidance counselor that leverages user-provided information to interact with the user and elicit detailed responses and insights.
To address concerns about AI-generated content, the team is working on a feature that prevents submissions with zero personal input from users, ensuring that applicants actively engage in the process.
Despite the ethical debate, Scholarply has garnered a positive response from its beta testers. Users are appreciative of the modern and streamlined solution it offers to the otherwise tedious scholarship application process. People are eager to explore how Scholarply can benefit them in their pursuit of education.