Recently during an Office Hours session for my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program, a graduate school applicant asked “Can I use ChatGPT to create my application materials, including my personal statement?”. I’m not surprised this question came up because ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) tools have been all over the news and touted as great resources to outline, prepare and write content of all types, including articles and essays. Because many graduate schools do not yet have explicit rules about using AI tools like ChaptGPT, applicants might assume it is perfectly fine to use them while preparing their application documents. Use might range from brainstorming essay ideas to using an AI tool to write an entire personal statement.
Although there are no clear rules just yet from all universities, my advice is applicants beware. There are several reasons you might not want to lean on tools like ChaptGPT as you prepare personal statements, essays, your CV and other application materials.
ChatGPT sometimes generates inaccurate information.
While ChatGPT can generate text based on the prompts you provide, it’s important to verify and fact-check the information it produces. Fast Company author Harry McCraken recently shared that the CEO of Open AI, the company that owns ChatGPT, said that ChatGPT “can occasionally produce incorrect answers”. The author went further to share concerning examples of their own experience with ChaptGPT producing false information. This is bad news for those who want to rely heavily on ChatGPT to produce essays and other types of content, including “examples of winning essays”. While the accuracy of AI is certain to improve over time, there’s no guarantee if and when these tools will produce 100% accurate information (and in fact, many are concerned AI will be deliberately used to spread misinformation, if it is not already).
AI-influenced essays may trigger plagiarism alarms.
Open AI Master confirmed that ChatGPT-generated content can be detected for plagiarism. Although this tool is a language model and not copying and pasting information from other sources, ChatGPT doesn’t add citations or sources to its generated content, which means you can’t either. Further, it is problematic from an ethics standpoint that you didn’t produce the content yourself. Don’t assume your AI-generated essay, re-worded by ChatGPT 50 times, will pass a plagiarism sniff test. Academics, who have more experience than most in detecting plagiarism, may easily spot that your personal statement was not written by you.
Your essays will not be in your own voice.
The purpose of the graduate school personal statement is to help selection committees get to know you – including your personal background, motivations, world views and career aspirations. How you express these things matters. Your personality and passions should shine through in your statement; your essay should not be a cookie-cutter version of essays produced by other people (or bots). If you relinquish your own voice in your personal statement, you put yourself at a disadvantage.
You’ll “trick” people into believing you have skills that you don’t yet possess.
Graduate schools are seeking people who have strong writing and analytical skills. If you rely on AI tools to do your writing for you, neither you nor the selection committee can assess if you truly have the skills to succeed in a rigorous graduate program. Some can argue that AI is the way of the future and that leveraging AI tools is a learning experience in itself. However, even if an AI-generated application could help you eke your way into graduate school (and this is already a big “if”), how will you cope when you need to take timed exams to demonstrate your writing, analytical, comprehension and critical thinking skills? AI can only take you so far.
The use of ChatGPT is controversial.
Because the use of ChatGPT in universities is controversial, you are wading into “red flag” waters when you use it to prepare your graduate school applications. While some academics view AI as a harmless tool like spellcheck or a calculator, others in academic leadership believe these tools are a crutch that inhibits learning, and worse, crosses ethical boundaries. Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, “The goal [of a Harvard education] is to think for yourself — not read a summary of what other people have done, a summary that might be inaccurate.”
Are there ways applicants use ChatGPT effectively and ethically?
There may be some ways to use ChatGPT effectively and ethically when working on your applications for graduate school. The key is to use AI tools for discreet activities with work you have already produced yourself, such as:
- Re-writing a sentence in your essay using other words and phrasing
- Reducing the word count from a paragraph of your essay
- Summarizing your ideas for dissertation research
In these cases, you should still carefully check and edit for accuracy and to ensure the document remains in your own voice.
Should I disclose I used AI when preparing my application essays?
If you are concerned about whether you should disclose the use of AI in your application, I would say you should avoid using AI altogether so a disclosure statement is not needed. There is a wide range of opinions in academia about the use of AI. A disclosure statement may trigger concerns about the authenticity of your application and skills. Likewise, it may be very obvious to a selection committee that your essays were generated by AI, and the lack of a disclosure statement can also ruin your credibility and chance of acceptance.
In conclusion, whether disclosed or not, the use of AI tools can put your graduate school application in a precarious position.
What does ChaptGPT say about all this?
I asked ChatGPT: “What is the guidance or restrictions on using ChatGPT for application materials?”
It responded: “As an AI language model, I can provide some general guidance on using ChatGPT for application materials. However, it’s important to note that specific guidelines and requirements may vary depending on the context and purpose of the application. Always refer to the guidelines provided by the organization or institution to which you’re submitting your application for the most accurate and up-to-date information. Here are some general considerations:
- Originality: Ensure that the content you submit is original and created by you. Plagiarism can have serious consequences and may harm your chances of success.
- Accuracy: While ChatGPT can generate text based on the prompts you provide, it’s important to verify and fact-check the information it produces. Make sure the content is accurate, truthful, and reflects your own experiences and achievements.
- Professional tone: Maintain a professional tone throughout your application materials. While ChatGPT can assist with generating content, ensure that the language and style align with the expectations of the application, whether it’s a resume, cover letter, personal statement, or any other document.
- Review and editing: Even though ChatGPT can assist with generating text, it’s crucial to carefully review and edit the content. Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, as well as clarity and coherence of ideas. Take ownership of the final product to ensure it represents you effectively.
- Tailoring to the specific application: Customize your application materials to match the requirements and objectives of the specific opportunity you’re applying for. Use the information provided by the organization or institution to guide the content and structure of your application.
Remember, while ChatGPT can provide suggestions and help with generating text, it’s important to take responsibility for the final result and ensure that it truly reflects your abilities, experiences, and aspirations.”
Well, you heard it from the horse’s, er robot’s, mouth itself.
Best of luck!
ProFellow Resources for Personal Statements
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Dr. Vicki Johnson is the Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, a top Ph.D. scholar, a Fulbright recipient, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding.
Copyright © 2023 by Victoria Johnson. All rights reserved.