Part of the challenge of applying to an MBA program is finding the time to craft strong personal essays.
Could artificial intelligence (AI) bots such as ChatGPT be the answer? ChatGPT has been lauded as a timesaver and possibly even a stand-in for managing tasks that can seem like a slog. One writer recently asked ChatGPT to optimize his daily schedule but ultimately didn’t relish how that turned out.
I’m not a complete AI skeptic, though. It’s changing our world. Rather than ignoring tools such as ChatGPT, Bing AI, and a whole host of others, we need to learn HOW to use them.
Ideas on how AI bots might help
For some tasks – such as when you are dealing with very specific questions and you know how to provide ChatGPT or other such tool with the right prompts – you might save yourself some time.
In my opinion, here are some ways you might be able to use AI to help you during the business school application process. In many cases, this is a “well begun is half done” step. You will likely need to refine the prompts you enter into the AI to get exactly what you want.
- Draft job summaries or “idea slides” to update your social media profiles, such as those on LinkedIn or Instagram.
- Create a template to follow as you write your MBA resume.
- Compile a list of online resources to find out more about your school of choice. (Let me be the first to direct you to Accepted.com. 😉)
- Recommend an application schedule that includes school deadlines and questions to keep yourself on track. I did this in early June 2023, and Bing AI chat’s results were better than those of ChatGPT, though not perfect. Here’s what I got:
Be careful with ChatGPT and other AI tools
Why haven’t I mentioned using AI to help you draft your essays? That’s where you really want to save time, right?
First, MBA programs want to hear from YOU. Schools such as the (GSB) and NYU Stern have issued explicit warnings that applicants’ essays must consist of only THEIR writing. Many MBA programs use software to detect plagiarism. Among the most well-known such software is Turnitin, which now advertises the ability to “safeguard academic integrity with an AI writing detection solution built for educators.” All that time saving could easily send your application to the rejection pile, without even getting you an interview.
Second, at this stage in AI development, I don’t believe these tools will save you time or help you write a personalized, compelling essay – because they don’t know YOU. To make an AI-generated essay specific to you, you would have to keep iterating prompts that include your personal information, just as you would in the regular writing process. The only difference is that the AI bot does not have the judgment to know whether the essay prompt has been answered persuasively.
In my opinion, relying on tools such as ChatGPT to write an effective, personalized MBA essay would take the same amount of time as – or longer than – working with an experienced consultant to do so.
But it’s so tempting…
Let’s try to nail just the first paragraph of one of the most open-ended essay prompts (that of the Stanford GSB). I’ll be the one applying; here’s more about my background.
Offering up some great values there, ChatGPT! But I can tell you that any adcom member reading this will be bored to tears and undoubtedly suspicious that the text was written by AI. It’s totally generic and could apply to nearly any thoughtful human.
Here’s my second try.
After I pasted in the contents of my resume, here’s the result:
It definitely relates more to me and my personal experience. But does it capture my attention? Does it make the most of the word count I’ve been allotted? And most importantly, is it true?
I tried again, after sitting at my computer thinking for about 15 minutes about a moment from my reporting career that really stood out to me.
This result is better, but still not great. I think it’s a much more interesting opening, but ChatGPT used much of my own writing. It didn’t really save me that much time.
If we drill down into the text, we can see that it’s repetitive: “transformative moment” versus “inciting moment,” for example (though it later uses “inciting moment” as well).
The anecdote also doesn’t really show how storytelling can inspire change, which is what I’ve said is most important to me. I’ll spare you the rest of the essay, which basically rehashed my resume in long form.
Why to keep your essays in human hands instead
As a professional editor, I would estimate that it would take me probably three to four more hours (including a period of deep reflection) to come up with the content needed to FUNDAMENTALLY change what is a generic essay into a masterful, heartfelt story that’s truly tailored to the Stanford MBA essay prompt.
ChatGPT has helped me get some words down on paper, but there are FUNDAMENTAL problems in the essay’s structure and content. It will require transformative surgery, because it’s FUNDAMENTALLY not right (and not human).
Stanford (like other MBA programs) is looking for people who have examined their experiences and chosen to act in an impactful way to address the change they want to see in the world.
But I’m not a good writer…
For those of you who believe that ChatGPT is a much better writer than you are, that’s like saying a cup, rather than the water in it, will quench your thirst. To keep going with this metaphor, ChatGPT is, for now, a shiny cup that you still have to fill with “water” (i.e., your personal experience) to make it work for you.
Even if you take the time to prompt and re-prompt a tool such as ChatGPT, it still cannot tell you whether the resulting essay is any good, truly answers the school’s prompt, or is specific enough to the MBA program.
I truly believe that anyone can be a good writer when they have accessed their authentic voice. (This also applies to those of you for whom English is a second language!) Finding that voice takes deep reflection and assistance from an expert who can help you draw out transformative experiences. As an admissions consultant, I can assist you in organizing your thoughts into a compelling, personalized story that will “wow” the admissions committee. You will save time by starting out on the right path, rather than doubting yourself and the story you tell.
The future is full of wonder
AI could eventually trigger a complete overhaul of the admissions process – who knows? I recommend experimenting with AI to see how it can help you research and prepare for the application process. When it comes to writing your essays, though, let your authentic self shine through.
(“Portrait of a professional cat preparing an MBA application”)
AI art created by Michelle Stockman, using PicsArt
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Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant. Want Michelle to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!