Student Advice

Using ChatGPT at university

Ben Maples  · Jan 29th 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.


AI can be useful for so many things. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream and The Terminator may paint a pretty bleak picture for the future of humanity when it comes to AI, but at the time of publishing, it is largely a fairly benign and entertaining way of seeing how far we have come with AI programming.

But there are those who have other ideas when it comes to AI. As AI becomes more and more sophisticated, many have begun asking for their cover letters, personal statements, essays and content to be written without them lifting a finger.

But just how is AI treated when used at university?

Is ChatGPT plagiarism free.

What is ChatGPT and how does it work?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot. The AI is a chatbot designed to provide responses to questions and to occasionally fulfil tasks and assignments for users. Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is not the only AI chatbot system around, as it merely follows in the footsteps of Jasper, CactusAI, Replika and the MSN Messenger alumni SmarterChild.

ChatGPT is mainly used as a means of simulating human conversations. Since launching in November 2022, it has fast become one of the leading chatbot AIs available on the market, owing to the advanced training who have helped to hone the AI’s language model.

Generally, ChatGPT is used to answer questions, write poetry or even proofread written work. Despite this, ChatGPT has also been used by people to write cover letters, songs and more.

Can I use ChatGPT for my personal statement?

Using an AI system like ChatGPT to write your personal statement for you is considered to be 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.

Steps are being taken to ensure that students do not use AI to write course-related essays.

“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.”

Also, despite the wonderful press it has received, ChatAI and other AIs are not as perfect as you may think. AI often struggles with complex phrasings and has been known to make things up. The collective knowledge of the system does not go beyond 2021, meaning that the system will often struggle with knowledge after that time.

As a result, ChatGPT can often struggle to fully understand the minutia of a request. For example, asking ChatGPT to write you a personal statement will often mean that the system will completely make things up in order to fulfil the request, thinking you are merely asking for an example of work to build your own personal statement from rather than you looking for something to copy and paste.

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

Plagiarism detector.

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.”

These universities consider using AI as a form of plagiarism. The punishments are at the discretion of the university or college.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot. The AI is a chatbot designed to provide responses to questions and to occasionally fulfil tasks and assignments for users.

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.

Are all universities against AI?

Not all universities are necessarily against the use of AI at university. 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.

These universities are attempting to teach students about AI and its uses. This is specifically a way of teaching students how to use AI to inform their learning rather than relying on the software as a means of cheating.

It is not just students who will benefit from this idea. University professors will also be given training and encouraged to implement AI into their lectures. Students will also be taught how AI can often be inaccurate, biased, or lead to potential plagiarism issues.

Can professors tell if you use ChatGPT?

This will largely depend on the professor. Professors and teachers are not stupid and will be able to tell if you are writing at a level beyond what they believe you are capable of. Not only that, they will also have an idea of what your writing style looks like and they will be able to tell if you have not written the piece.

This is the same for those who use translation services like Google Translate when studying modern foreign languages courses. Teachers will be aware of how much you understand of their course 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 that use essay-writing services. These can look to be a God-send 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 have not written the content yourself.

It is also worth pointing out that essays can be easy to fact-check. As stated above, AI does not necessarily have all the answers and is often known to outright lie in order to fulfil a request. 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.

Can I use ChatGPT to write an essay?

Steps are being taken to ensure that students do not use AI to write course-related essays. Services such as the Turnitin checker 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 is already starting to be rolled out for universities now. 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.”

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 recognize ChatGPT writing—into our in-market products for educator use in 2023”.

Will I be punished for using ChatGPT at university?

This ultimately depends on what you have used ChatGPT for. If you have used it as a means of finding sources for your work, this will generally be accepted as long as you have referenced it. If you have used ChatGPT to write your essay for you, then you will likely be punished in accordance with your university’s plagiarism policy.

A spokesperson for Turnitin has said that “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.”

Universities are beginning to take steps to ensure that they can effectively identify AI-written content.

Universities will consider any AI-written content as being plagiarised content. Universities also use AI themselves to discover what is and what is not considered to be plagiarised content, and if the AI writing your content is always learning, then so is the AI being used to detect it.

What can I use ChatGPT for at university?

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

AI in of itself 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 a concept that you are unfamiliar with.

Many students also use AI as a means of checking plagiarism before submitting any work. Even if no part of your personal statement, essay or dissertation has anything in it that has been copied and pasted or quoted verbatim without a source, running the work through a plagiarism checker is a good way to help yourself with submissions.

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

As stated above, AI does not necessarily guarantee accuracy when telling you information. Even if you only intend to use ChatGPT as a means of sourcing information for your essay, it is worth double-checking any and all information it provides you with.

As also stated above, ChatGPT’s knowledge does have a cut-off point. Anything that has taken place after September of 2021 is past the software’s cut-off point for knowledge.

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