Help! My Recommender Used ChatGPT by: Judith Silverman Hodara, Fortuna Admissions on September 18, 2023 | 818 Views September 18, 2023 Copy Link Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email Share on LinkedIn Share on WhatsApp Share on Reddit Strong recommendation letters are a critical component of your MBA application, so you pick your recommenders with great consideration. You choose people who are committed to your success, so they will invest thought and care in a letter that highlights your strengths and potential. But what do you do if you suspect your recommender took a shortcut and what they have written seems like it may have been authored by generative AI? Some of our Fortuna clients have recently faced this exact scenario. Going back to the recommender and asking them to rewrite is going to be an awkward conversation. On the other hand, admissions reviewers are very likely to notice and doubt the credibility of the letter. “It’s a tough situation,” says Fortuna director Peter Johnson, a former assistant dean for full-time MBA program and admissions at University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business. “While it reflects more poorly on the recommender than the applicant, if a letter appears to have been written by ChatGPT, it calls into question the credibility of the content and diminishes the value of otherwise positive comments, resulting in a less competitive application. ” What tipped our coaches off to an AI-generated recommendation? They tend to be repetitive and formulaic in structure. Senior expert coach Heidi Hillis reviewed one in which every section ended with a paragraph that started with the same phrases: “in summary,” or “in conclusion.” The text was also inconsistent in style, switching pronouns from “she” to “they,” for example. The biggest clue is that such letters tend to be so effusively complimentary that they are unrealistic, while at the same time, they lack the specific context and details that adcoms are looking for. Together, these flaws undercut the credibility of the letter. Fortuna’s coaches agree that if a letter like this comes to light, it should be addressed with the recommender, and we’ve compiled some suggestions on how to do that. Hillis received the letter directly from the recommender for review, so she noticed the issue and could address it on behalf of her client applicant. “I gave some gentle feedback and suggestions to the recommender, encouraging them to back up every statement of praise with a specific detailed example. The recommender rewrote the letter, and it was fantastic,” Hillis says. Fortuna expert coach Alice Boshkin also encountered a recommendation that was very clearly written by AI. Like Hillis, she advised the recommender to cut parts that sounded so dramatically positive that they were unrealistic, and to add more personal, specific examples. Jennifer Raver, also a senior expert coach with Fortuna, suggests that you, the applicant, may need to address this directly. “I would encourage my clients to have a hard discussion with the recommender to encourage a rewrite,” she says. In that case, acknowledge that you are aware of the demands on your recommender’s time, and that you’re very grateful for their efforts. Then, “tell them that the letter is too formulaic. It’s important that an authentic, personal voice comes across clearly, especially in the era of ChatGPT,” says Fortuna co-founder and director Caroline Diarte Edwards. Most likely, with constructive feedback, recommenders who used AI will be willing to rewrite, and so far, Fortuna coaches have found that raising the issue produced a much-improved letter. But what if the recommender reacts badly? “I suggest you find another recommender,” says Raver, “even if it means your Round 1 applications are delayed for review as the schools wait for the new recommendation to come in, or you submit your application for Round 2.” Given the now widespread use of generative AI, we in fact advise candidates to specifically ask recommenders to avoid using such tools and to have that conversation upfront, before the letter is drafted. Candidates should brief their recommenders on the importance of using specific examples —a key element of an honest assessment that clearly distinguishes an effective recommendation letter from one that may have been generated by AI. One benefit of an admissions coach is to tap into expert advice on navigating tricky situations like this. Collectively, Fortuna’s dream team of admissions insiders can guide you through almost any specific circumstances that arise on your application. To learn more about how we can help you, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation. Judith Silverman Hodara is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Wharton head of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation. Comments or questions about this article? Email us.