Rec Letter Rant

There may be all kinds of things wrong with law schools but they sure have figured out how to run an applications process. You submit one letter for a student, answer a few questions about how to rank the student compared to others, and that’s it!

By contrast, each policy school and PhD program has its own application process. I am sure this is annoying for students. It’s equally annoying for professors. If you have ten students who each apply to ten programs, then you need to follow one hundred links that are e-mailed to you separately. And it’s not like you can just download your letter at these links. No, each program will have its own way of asking you the same questions. Some go as far as to ask you to rate applicants on twenty slightly different dimensions. Anyone who believes this creates meaningful unique information is delusional. I put great care in drafting letters of recommendation. Yet, I apologize for not carefully weighing whether someones “intellectual curiosity” is more impressive or whether it is really her “analytical ability” or an “ability to work with others” that stands out. I sometimes barely know what the questioners really mean with these terms. Dragging me through this process leaves me less time to write good and careful letters of recommendation that convey the meaningful information that I have about a student.

Perhaps even more annoying is the software. I have submitted dozens of rec letters through Embark and Collegenet and have an account with them. Still, I have to fill out my address, phone number, etcetera every single time I submit a new letter.

Now, I understand why this happens. Professors are not paying customers of these software programs or these graduate programs. Things that make professors unhappy do not easily register in the bottom line of those involved in the transactions. All that is left is to rant (or we could recommend our students to go to law school, but that goes too far). Take it away in the comments.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Erik Voeten

Erik Voeten is the Peter F. Krogh associate professor of geopolitics and global justice at Georgetown University.