The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Recommendation Letter Rant (piling on)

November 23, 2011

Erik Voeten is spot on with his post at The Monkey Cage today on the flaws in the current recommendation letter system:

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.

Thank you, Erik! Well said.

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.