Authenticity in MBA Applications in the Age of Chat GPT

authenticity in MBA applications

Chat GPT celebrated its first anniversary in November 2023. When the AI tool first launched, news headlines went into overdrive, predicting how soon/well the technology would supplant the essay writing process for university admissions. Admittedly, the tool is beneficial across many settings. But from our perspective, we’ve seen how Chat GPT and its ilk can negatively impact authenticity in MBA applications.

Merriam-Webster named “authentic” its Word of the Year in 2023, noting that it’s “something we’re thinking about, writing about, aspiring to, and judging more than ever.” Forbes even called authentic the word of the year for college and MBA applications.

The best MBA essays, at their heart, explore the applicants’ personal experiences. They also include unique insights gleaned from talking to current students or alums at target programs. Sure, Chat GPT might be able to spit out a list of facts about a particular university. That generic response will not impress an admissions committee looking for authenticity in MBA applications.

Business schools want to know why you want an MBA from their program, so specifics are vital. Is there a certain professor you admire or a course you want to take? Perhaps there’s a unique resource at the school that would expand your professional toolkit. Only by researching each MBA program in-depth will you come up with the aspects that most excite you.

No Substitute for Lived Experiences

“MBA applications are narratives of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to go,” SBC consultant Christina explained when she dropped by the B-Schooled podcast to chat about authenticity in MBA applications. “MBA programs look for candidates who share and connect those dots in honest, thoughtful, and self-aware ways.”

Schools ask about past challenges to understand how the candidate might rise to the occasion in the face of adversity. “A perfect application essay describing a flawless human being with a spotless record is simply not very interesting,” Dr. Marlena Corcoran writes in Forbes. “It gives admissions officers little opportunity to distinguish this applicant from others.”

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“While ChatGPT is great at creating very general content that can be found on websites, it doesn’t offer the specific examples you’ve experienced in your personal and professional life,” Shelly Heinrich, the associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, tells Find MBA.

“So, our admissions essays now ask for details that are specific to your personal life experiences, which requires information that only you can answer.”

Use Chat GPT Without Undermining Authenticity in MBA Applications

Besides your ability to handle the rigors of an MBA program, emotional intelligence counts for an outsized amount these days. The so-called “soft skills” surrounding communication, the ability to motivate others, and leadership are attractive qualities to the admissions committee. Your MBA essays are the ideal vehicle for conveying those traits.

authenticity in MBA applications

Chat GPT can be helpful in the MBA application process in specific, limited ways. For instance, its use as a grammar checker can be a terrific benefit so long as the user ensures the AI output hasn’t changed the underlying meaning of the content.

“There is no doubt that our MBA applicants use it for their essays, but ultimately it comes down to how it is used,” Charlotte Russell-Green, head of MBA recruitment and admissions at the UK’s Cambridge Judge Business School, tells Find MBA. “If it has been copied and pasted with no proof reading, editing or personalization then it’s very obvious to us – we can spot it a mile off.”

“However, if used correctly, it can provide a solid format for your essay and assist you in bringing together what you’d like to say in a clear and concise way,” she adds.

Use it to Brainstorm

Brainstorming broad ideas using AI when an applicant is stuck can also be effective.  “A lot of my clients struggle with the writing part—they have the data but they lack the skills to put it together,” notes SBC consultant Margaret.

“If there’s a writing tool that helps people take their research and construct tolerably readable essays out of it, I don’t see why they shouldn’t take advantage of it. After all, that’s what they’re going to be doing post-MBA when they’re business execs.”

We had one client—a former professional baseball pitcher—use ChatGPT to ask what pitching and business have in common. AI-generated some ideas that he adapted and explored during his engagement with his SBC consultant.

Meanwhile, Yvette on the SBC team shares this perspective on the AI tool. “As someone who is not a native English speaker, I view Generative AI tools as a great equalizer,” she explains.

“It can help talented people with weaker writing skills be as competitive as those who may dominate language but not other skill sets. This makes me very excited about this new era and excited AdComs and industries see this as well.”

Proceed with Caution

Our own essay writing experiment with Chat GPT was not impressive. We soon discovered that every AI-produced essay had the same problem: it had no meaningful and personalized content. Sure, the essays were grammatically solid. But all had the same vague and repetitive output.

They also lacked specific knowledge of the culture or curriculum of MBA programs. Plus, they had no insight into the intrinsic motivations of the applicants. We believe AI-produced essays will be high-risk dealbreakers that will land applicants in the reject pile.

For further proof, see this affidavit applicants must sign found within the 2023-2024 Harvard Business School MBA application:

“The point of an application is to help the admissions team understand who you are as a person and to demonstrate what makes you a competitive candidate,” Georgetown’s Heinrich says. “Using ChatGPT for your essays won’t help us understand your unique attributes; instead, it will make you more similar to other applicants and make it more difficult for us to discover who you are and why you’re interested in our program.”

Chat GPT may be able to provide a well-written answer to an application prompt. But authenticity in MBA applications is the name of the game. Therefore, we urge B-school aspirants to focus their efforts on doing the introspective work that is the foundation of a strong application.

SBC consultant Sherry sums it up nicely: “I guess I am just old-school, but I’d rather my clients write from their hearts/guts and with passion—not rely on AI.”


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership and Interview Prep to hourly help with essay editing, resume review, and much more! Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from LBS, Columbia CBS and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Meet Susan, just one of the many superstars on the SBC team. Susan was the Director of Recruitment and Admissions at London Business School LBS and also the Director of the Executive MBA program at Columbia Business School CBS.

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