Is using AI cheating? | Personal statements & artificial intelligenceby Jenny Shippen
We are currently witnessing a new technology boom, with talk of Artificial Intelligence taking the world by storm.
If you're thinking of using AI to write your personal statement for your university application are you clear on whether you can use it or if it's cheating? Read on to find out more.
What is AI?
AI is a machine’s way of mimicking or replicating tasks that typically take human input, such as calculating, writing, talking, and creating imagery. AI and machine learning have been around for a long time, with commonly used examples like Google, Siri, and Alexa becoming household names.
Generative AI (GenAI) has been in the spotlight recently as a type of AI that generates content after identifying patterns within existing sets of data, often in response to a prompt. The result is a human-like mimicry of conversational text, speech, or imagery.
In November 2022, GenAI chatbot ChatGPT exploded onto the scene. Within five days of its launch, a million people were using ChatGPT. Two months later, that had rocketed to 100 million and, by April 2023, the number of users topped 173 million.
Can I write my personal statement using AI?
The short answer is: no.
Using AI to write your personal statement may seem like a quick and easy solution to a difficult task, but the risks significantly outweigh any potential benefit.
According to UCAS, if you get an AI tool to generate all or large parts of your personal statement and then copy and paste to use as your final text, it could be considered cheating.
Because GenAI is trained on pre-existing material – sometimes unethically, without consent, and from questionable or copyrighted sources – the risk that your AI-generated personal statement could be too similar to someone else’s is significantly increased. UCAS already uses a similarity detection system to compare statements and combat fraud, and using AI gives you a higher chance of your personal statement being flagged as plagiarism. The university you are applying to may be alerted, and this could affect your chances of receiving an offer to study at university.
Instead, the advice from UCAS is that your personal statement should be just that: personal and written by you. Writing a personal statement is a milestone in your journey to university, and an opportunity to showcase your skills, ambitions, and experiences in your own voice, which is what university admissions staff are interested in. Putting these experiences down in writing can also help you confirm whether you are applying for the correct course or not: for example, you may find yourself more suited to Film Studies rather than English Language, or Marine Engineering instead of Mechanical Engineering.
It can be tempting to save time by generating a personal statement using ChatGPT, but bear in mind GenAI is rapidly being viewed as a tool for cheating. Leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh have already released statements prohibiting the unauthorised use of GenAI by their current students, so chances are they'll take a dim view of an AI-generated personal statement submitted as part of an application to study with them.
What else is a grey area for AI?
If you haven't been told that ChatGPT is not a search engine, now you know.
Because of its sudden popularity, some people are turning to ChatGPT as an alternative to Google or Bing. However, to use this in an academic setting would be a huge mistake. Chatbots are known for getting simple facts wrong, or making up convincing alternatives in a process known as ‘hallucinating’, and ChatGPT’s creators have admitted the chatbot ‘sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers’. You would be more successful using real search engines to point you towards reliable sources than using an AI chatbot as a search engine.
Even professionals have fallen into the trap of incorrectly using ChatGPT as a search engine: in June 2023, a New York lawyer was reprimanded for inadvertently generating details of a non-existent court case hallucinated by ChatGPT to use as evidence in a real court case.
What can you use AI for?
When used ethically, AI can still be a great tool to support the writing of your personal statement. Here are some ways to use AI without risking your legitimacy:
- plans – if you’re not sure how to plot out your personal statement, AI could give you advice on how to plan the structure of your statement
- ideas – if you’re stuck, AI can suggest ideas for you to use as a springboard for your own writing
- prompts – like a writing exercise, AI can generate a prompt or theme to help you kickstart your work
- writer’s block – using a chatbot may give you the inspiration you need to beat the freezing effects of writer’s block
If you do choose to use a GenAI tool to explore ideas for your personal statement, remember you must confirm your personal statement hasn’t been copied or provided from another source – including AI software – before you submit your application.
What if I need help with my personal statement?
Help was always available before AI, and that hasn’t changed. If you need help with your personal statement, you could:
- talk to your teachers – they'll be more than happy to help you.
- collaborate with friends – as long as you aren’t copying each other’s work, bouncing ideas off like-minded people can be a great way to focus your statement.
- chat to a current university student
- access the UCAS website for a wealth of information about writing a personal statement, including examples and valuable tips and advice.
- research your chosen university's website and see what advice they have to offer. You can also download our guide on how to write your personal statement, which is packed with helpful tips.
Published By Jenny Shippen on 10/11/2023 | Last Updated 29/11/2023