Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
apap
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:22 pm

Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby apap » Thu Oct 27, 2011 4:44 am

I am a bit confused as to how I should approach the professors I want recommendations from. It's not as much the asking part but rather the logistics of it. Say I ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation for me and he or she accepts. Then I provide them with a list of schools I am applying to, CV etc. Will a professor just send a letter to that particular school? I looked up the U Michigan Ann Arbor application and you have to write the emails of your referees. Will Michigan contact my professor and provide him with the info he needs? Is a professor going to be OK with that as long as he accepted to write a letter for me in the first place?

owlpride
Posts: 204
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby owlpride » Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:53 pm

The polite thing to do is to ask your professors if they have a preference for online or paper letters. Most graduate programs accept both (with the default being online these days).

As for the logistics of online letters, most application forms will ask you to enter the email address of your reference and then automatically generate an email with instructions to your professors. This may happen before or after you submit your application - so be sure to submit your application well before the deadline, to give your professors ample time to submit their letters at their own convenience.

I personally decided to submit my application in batches so that my professors would receive several reference requests at once. If they get them one by one, it's really easy to miss one amongst the flood of other emails in their inbox. I also followed up with them when I noticed that they had submitted some letters and not others - turned out that some requests landed in their spam box.

yoyobarn
Posts: 80
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 7:01 am

Re: Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby yoyobarn » Fri Oct 28, 2011 1:03 am

Is it ok to ask the professor for a PDF version of the recommendation letter? (so that it can be sent to multiple schools).

Would that be considered rude?

Also, does anyone have a list of schools which only accepts recommendation letters through their online system (i.e. paper/PDF letters not accepted)? I know Michigan and Princeton are two such schools.

Thank you very much.

owlpride
Posts: 204
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby owlpride » Fri Oct 28, 2011 2:13 am

Is it ok to ask the professor for a PDF version of the recommendation letter? (so that it can be sent to multiple schools).

No - at least not in the US. Students are generally not supposed to see their letters of recommendation. If the admissions committee knows that you have access to the letter, it might hurt the credibility of your reference because he/she may not be comfortable to speak "freely" about you.

There's also a question of how you would go about submitting these. If you do it online, you'd need access to your professors' emails. If you do it on paper, you'd still need your professors' signature on a separate cover page (which might have additional questions too).

yoyobarn
Posts: 80
Joined: Sun Dec 19, 2010 7:01 am

Re: Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby yoyobarn » Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:45 am

Thank you very much!

I am trying to apply this advice (from http://www.math.harvard.edu/pamphlets/gradsch.html), in my local context. The problem is, my university has no such thing as an undergraduate house, nor anything remotely similar to it. Anyone has any ideas how to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation right after the semester in a polite manner?

Thanks a lot.

If you took a course from a professor and did relatively well, you may want to ask him or her to write a letter of recommendation right away. He or she may not remember all the details of your performance a year or two later. The recommendation can later be fine tuned to address specific graduate schools or fellowships. If you are thinking of taking some time off after college and applying later, you may still want to get your recommendations written while you are in school. Remember that faculty members often take sabbaticals, change universities, etc. Ask your recommenders to send copies of your recommendations to your undergraduate house to be included in your personal folder; they may be useful later on. To place a copy of your recommendation in your undergraduate house file you need to obtain a form from your House's Senior Tutor. Harvard will keep these files indefinitely, and will mail the letters you want to graduate schools or employers at your request.

owlpride
Posts: 204
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Letters of Recommendation Logistics

Postby owlpride » Fri Oct 28, 2011 12:26 pm

Re "undergraduate house". My own college's Career Development Office offered to keep letters of recommendation on file in case we ever needed one after we graduate; but I don't know a single student who actually utilized that service while applying to graduate school. In the US, professors are used to submitting letters to every single graduate program themselves. If you are in a different country and concerned about being too demanding on your references, I would suggest that you have an open conversation with them.

For example, when I was applying to REUs (with all applications done on paper), I gave my professors addressed envelopes, so that they only needed to print and sign a bunch of letters, stuff them in the envelopes and hand them off to the department secretary for mailing. (If your professors don't get free mail through the department, you should probably put stamps on the envelopes too.)

If your professors don't mind you seeing the letters, I guess you could stuff the envelopes yourself - but that should be their suggestion, not yours.

I personally would not want to do graduate applications on paper though. The big advantage of online letters is that you can track them - you know exactly what's been submitted and what hasn't. With paper letters, there's the insecurity of whether it's actually been mailed, if it might have gotten lost in the mail, and if the department filed your letters correctly.




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