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Authenticity in MBA Applications in the Age of Chat GPT

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Feb 28, 2024

Chat GPT celebrated its first anniversary this past November. 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 a range of 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 often include unique insights gleaned from talking to current students or alums at target programs. While 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 delving deep as you research each MBA program will you come up with the aspects that most excite you about attending.

"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."

Many schools ask about past challenges to better 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.”

Use Chat GPT Without Undermining Authenticity in MBA Applications

In addition to 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.

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.

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 is already showing that 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 left much to be desired. As we soon discovered, every AI-produced essay had the same problem: there was 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 the MBA program in question. Plus, they had no insight into the intrinsic motivations of the applicants. We believe AI-produced essays will be high-risk dealbreakers in the MBA admissions process that will land in the reject pile.

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

Chat GPT and the like may be able to provide a well-written answer to an application prompt. But since authenticity in MBA applications is the name of the game, 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."

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant