Student Advice

Using ChatGPT at university

Ben Maples  · May 13th 2024  · 7 min

ChatGPT is the new kid on the block. As one of the most popular artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, more and more people are starting to see the possibilities of what it can do.


As AI becomes more and more sophisticated, people have begun asking for their cover letters, personal statements, essays and content to be written without even lifting a finger. Not even The Terminator and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream saw that coming!

More and more companies are releasing their own versions of AI to meet the demand! Google has Bard, Twitter (or X) has Grok, and Facebook has Jarvis AI. But can you use AI at university? If you do, will you be confronted by a cybernetic Arnold Schwarzenegger or just your university’s admissions team? To be honest, we know which one we’d prefer!

Is ChatGPT plagiarism free.

What is ChatGPT and how does it work?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot. The chatbot is designed to respond to questions and occasionally complete tasks and assignments for users. If you name it, ChatGPT can most likely do it.

ChatGPT was developed by OpenAI. It’s not the only AI chatbot system around, lots of people also use Jasper, CactusAI and Replika.

Does ChatGPT plagiarise?

ChatGPT isn’t specifically designed to plagiarise. That being said, it’s a programme that is taught using already published works, so it’s pretty tough to say that it isn’t plagiarising, even if it isn’t intentional.

Ultimately, universities look at any work produced by an AI as being plagiarised, even if the sentences it produces are unique.

Can I use ChatGPT for my personal statement?

Using an AI system like ChatGPT to write your personal statement for you is considered plagiarism. Companies such as the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) have begun taking steps to ensure that AI writing systems are not used to write personal statements.

“The personal statement is exactly that; personal. It is a chance for applicants to really sell themselves and why they are interested in studying a particular course.” says Courtney Sheppard, the Head of Customer Contact at UCAS, “Applicants need to advocate for themselves, in their own words, and describe the ambitions, skills and experience that will make them suitable for the course. We also know that the process of writing a personal statement helps students to affirm their choice is right for them”.

“Personal statements should be a student’s own work and the chances of being offered a place could be affected if it does not appear genuine. As part of our responsibility to applicants, course providers and stakeholders, the UCAS Verification Team run checks to detect fraudulent applications and similarity in statements, with universities and colleges to decide what action, if any, to take regarding reported cases.”

Any personal statements or essays that are found to have been written using ChatGPT will be immediately rejected.

Do universities know if you use ChatGPT?

Universities are beginning to take steps to ensure that they can effectively identify AI-written content. Several universities have even taken to outright banning the use of ChatGPT and other AI software, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh. A spokesperson from the University of Cambridge said: “Students must be the authors of their own work. Content produced by AI platforms, such as ChatGPT, does not represent the student’s own original work so would be considered a form of academic misconduct to be dealt with under the university’s disciplinary procedures.”

Can Turnitin detect ChatGPT?

Universities are also liaising with their own internal and external software providers to combat this. Turnitin is one of the most widely used plagiarism detection services in the UK and the USA and they, among others, are beginning to implement AI detection software to prevent students from using AI to write their essays.

Turnitin and others have begun to crack down on ChatGPT and other AI writing services, by creating software to detect whether or not a student has used an AI to write their work for them. In fact, the Turnitin AI detection software has been rolled out for universities now.

Plagiarism detector.

How does Turnitin detect ChatGPT?

An official Turnitin spokesperson has said: “Educators can use Turnitin’s AI writing detection to check past assignments if they are resubmitted to Turnitin. Turnitin is constantly working on improving and expanding our AI writing capabilities. Turnitin is an effective tool to provide intelligence about the origins of a document, but Turnitin does not make a determination of misconduct. Rather, Turnitin provides data for educators to make informed decisions based on their academic and institutional policies along with their knowledge about their students’ previous work.”

Obviously, these services are not giving too much away when it comes to how they are developing these tools. According to a press release on the company’s website, Turnitin have said: “We will incorporate our latest AI writing detection capabilities—including those that recognise ChatGPT writing—into our in-market products for education”.

Are all universities against AI?

Not all universities are necessarily against the use of AI. All 24 members of the Russell Group of Universities have begun to create “guiding principles for generative AI” that will allow students to use AI in a specific way.

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: “AI breakthroughs are already changing the way we work and it’s crucial students get the new skills they need to build a fulfilling career. University staff also need support as they look at how AI can be used to enhance their teaching and help bring subjects to life.”

Can professors tell if you use ChatGPT?

This depends on the professor. Professors and teachers have a strong understanding of the level their students are at, so if you do hand something in that reads very differently from your previous assessments, they’ll know something’s up! From your writing style to your understanding of the material to how you format your work, ChatGPT, won’t be able to replicate your voice fully.

This is the same for those who use translation services like Google Translate when studying modern foreign languages courses. Teachers will know your level and will be able to tell if you have simply written your essay in English and then asked a translation service to write it up for you.

The same can also be said for those who use essay-writing services. These can seem like a great idea for students who need to suddenly write an essay with very little time to spare, but in reality, they run into the same problems as AI. Professors will be able to tell if you haven’t written the content yourself.

It’s also worth pointing out that essays can be easy to fact-check. AI doesn’t necessarily have all the answers and is often known to outright lie in order to fulfil a request; so professors will know you’ve used an AI if you suddenly start talking about Napoleon Bonaparte taking part in the Battle of Hastings in 1066!

TurinItIn plagiarism.

Will I be punished for using ChatGPT at university?

This really depends on what you’ve used ChatGPT for. If you’ve used it as a means of finding sources for your work, this will generally be accepted as long as you reference it.

If you’re caught using ChatGPT to write your essay for you, then you’ll be punished in accordance with your university’s plagiarism policy.

What can I actually use ChatGPT for at university?

Not all AI is necessarily frowned upon by a university. Even common programmes like Microsoft Word or Pages for Mac have elements of AI built into them, with grammar and spell check features.

AI can also be a useful research tool. Asking ChatGPT to provide you with a list of resources for a topic you are writing about is perfectly safe, as is asking the programme to explain something you don’t understand.

You can also speak to your tutors about referencing ChatGPT if you used it. Though there is currently no recognised referencing style for AI, your tutor will be able to help you out if you have used anything that an AI has given you.

Sometimes AI is far more A than I

Remember that AI doesn’t necessarily guarantee accuracy when providing information. Even if you intend to use ChatGPT only to source information for your essay, it is worth double-checking the information it provides.

ChatGPT’s knowledge does have a cut-off point. Previously, the knowledge cut-off was September 2021, but this has since been updated to January 2022. Because of the cut-off, not everything it tells you will necessarily be true, and the AI could just make something up to complete the task you set it.

All in all, AI is a mixed bag. Universities are still reacting to how quickly AI is advancing and the tech itself still has a lot of kinks to iron out. AI has it’s uses when it comes to grammar and spellchecking but with its limitations and software developments for plagiarism, do use it with the right intentions. If you find yourself turning to AI when you’re struggling with the content of your lectures or confused by your personal statement, reach out to a teacher - they’ll have resources to help!

undergraduate Uni's

Get your questions answered by sending them an enquiry now.