In Poll, Most MBA Candidates Say They Want To Use AI To Craft Essays, But They’re Wary Of The Tech

In a new Kaplan/Manhattan Prep survey, a majority of MBA candidates said they would like to be able to use generative AI like ChatGPT to craft their admissions essays. iStockphoto

Warren Buffett is not a fan of AI — yet. The 93-year-old founder and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway told the company’s shareholders at their annual meeting May 4 that “we let a genie out of the bottle when we developed nuclear weapons” and “AI is somewhat similar — it’s partway out of the bottle.”

Though he acknowledged that the technology could change the world for the better, Buffett, the legendary investor known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” said he isn’t sold yet. “It has enormous potential for good and enormous potential for harm,” he said. “And I just don’t know how that plays out.”

Across industries, it’s playing out rapidly: According to the International Monetary Fund, nearly 40% of global employment could be disrupted by AI, from medicine to finance to music. Count graduate business education among the impacted sectors: AI is transforming how teachers teach and how students learn so quickly, business schools can hardly keep up.


Rochester Simon Dean Sevin Yeltekin: “Much like getting support from an admissions counselor, generative AI can be an effective resource for applicants”

Nor has MBA admissions evaded the transformative power of AI. The debate over whether to use ChatGPT or other generative AI programs to craft key parts of a candidate’s MBA application — particularly the essay — has raged since day one, when the tech’s viability first entered the public consciousness.

Prospective students, for their part, have been split on how to employ the technology — and that split continues, as evidenced by a new poll released today (May 8) by Kaplan, the global educational services company, and its sister company Manhattan Prep, a leading test prep provider. The survey of more than 300 aspiring MBA students finds mixed attitudes toward GenAI and its use in the admissions process, with 56% saying they should be allowed to use AI tools to help them write their admissions essays, but only with certain guidelines and restrictions; 20% saying they don’t think they should be allowed under any circumstances; 18% saying use should be unrestricted; and the remaining 7% unsure.

“Aspiring MBA students are going to have to take the GMAT exam without the use of GenAI,” says Stacey Koprince, director of content and curriculum for Manhattan Prep. “And they also built up their GPAs without using it either, considering how new the technology is, so it’s not surprising that many think it’s necessary for business schools to put guardrails around its use in the admissions process. At the same time, our results show that many are eager to use GenAI to their advantage if allowed.”


The Manhattan Prep/Kaplan survey was conducted online in March-April 2024 and included responses from 306 aspiring business school students across the United States. It complements a separate survey of business school admissions officers that found that only a handful of B-schools have policies in place directing students how they can use AI in their admissions essays, signaling the issue is still unsettled. The latter was conducted by phone and email with 75 business schools across the United States — among them are 8 of the top 50 schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report — between August 2023 and February 2024.

Prospective MBA students in the more recent survey are concerned not only with the broader question of AI use — they also don’t want their competitors to get an unfair advantage. Exactly half in the more recent survey of aspiring MBA students say AI unfairly levels the playing field for applicants who don’t possess strong writing skills; 32% don’t believe that to be the case; the remaining 18% are unsure.

But if it’s allowed, more say they will go for it: Of those surveyed, 60% said they would likely use AI in their admissions essays if the schools they were applying to allowed it; 24% said they were unlikely to use it; 16% said they were unsure.


The acceptability of AI increases the further one gets in the admissions process. Once applicants have proven their mettle and achieved admission, two-thirds (67%) say B-schools should allow them to use GenAI as part of their classwork/academic experience, with certain guidelines and restrictions. Another 20% believe enrolled students should be allowed to use GenAI with no restrictions at all. That’s nearly 90% who see AI use inside MBA programs as acceptable under certain conditions.

Another 8% said it shouldn’t be allowed under any circumstances; and the remaining 6% were unsure.

Asked how often they use AI in the workplace or in their personal lives, 8% said “always”; 25% said “frequently”; 38% said “occasionally”; 19% said “rarely”; and 10% said “never.”

Koprince says the days of uncertainty about schools’ policies are likely coming to a close.

“While results from Manhattan Prep and Kaplan’s most recent business school admissions officers survey show that most MBA programs have no policy at all when it comes to allowing applicants to use GenAI in admissions essays, we don’t believe that’s a tenable long-term position, as they will increasingly get questions from prospective students who want to know the boundaries of acceptable use,” Koprince says. “Our prediction: Many business schools will be developing GenAI policies in the coming year.”


B-schools continue to adapt to the AI gold rush. At the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, Dean Sevin Yeltekin says the school is “leaning into generative AI by incorporating it into our course content and by launching a degree program in business analytics and applied AI and utilizing it in our school’s operations. We believe that combined with domain knowledge and used responsibly, generative AI can be a very effective productivity and learning tool.”

Simon’s approach to generative AI in the admissions process is similar, Yeltekin tells P&Q: “Much like getting support from an admissions counselor, generative AI can be an effective resource for applicants. Regardless of the tools or resources that an applicant uses, their submissions must be authentic in both tone and content. Simon admissions committee members are experienced readers and interviewers, trained to look for authenticity and screen for consistency in a candidate’s communication style and message.

“Our high-touch process that includes admission essays, interview feedback, and interactions with alumni and current students allows us to triangulate on the authentic applicant and holistically evaluate their background, behavioral skills and fit for the program.”


Petia Whitmore, the founder of admissions consulting firm My MBA Path and a former dean of MBA admissions at Babson College, writes in a commentary published May 7 by Poets&Quants that “No one should be surprised that if you simply ask ChatGPT to write a Harvard MBA essay, you will end up with a cliché overload.” She points to a sample AI essay published last spring in Poets&Quants:

“I am thrilled to submit my application for the Harvard Business School MBA program, and I appreciate the opportunity to elaborate on what I believe makes me a strong candidate for the program.

Throughout my academic and professional career, I have developed a passion for business and a desire to make a meaningful impact in the world through my work. My experiences have shaped my perspectives, and I believe they will allow me to bring a unique and valuable perspective to the classroom and beyond.”

The former managing director of The MBA Tour adds that as the technology evolves, more applicants will find ways to employ it successfully. But in the last application cycle, none of the candidates she worked with had any interest in using it.

“All but one of my MBA candidates this cycle were admitted to at least one of their top MBA choices (yes, even the ones who only applied to H/S/W….),” Whitmore writes. “Not a single one had to use ChatGPT to write their essays — or had any interest in even trying.

“Knowing what to write about can only come from two sources — knowing yourself well (self-reflection and self-awareness) and knowing your schools well.

“And when it comes to the actual writing: Remember, it’s not about filling pages with words.”


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