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General question on how to proceed in getting LORs


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Hi all!

How do you proceed in getting LORs? I'm a german student and it's not common in Germany to ask the profs. for LORs.

I heard that every University wants to have an individual LOR. So, if you apply on maybe 10 Universities, the recommenders do have to write 10 letters for each student? I can't believe that the profs are willingly to do that.

They also have to send it directly to the Universities, right?

I guess that this amount of work for the profs could be the biggest problem of my whole application.

I would be very happy to hear some experiences from other students applying for graduate admission.

Thanks a lot!!!!


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It is much easier than you think, Jochen!

1. You ask your professors for recommendation letters. As easy as that. Just send them a nice e-mail telling them if your life/career plans, which schools you are applying for, and how much you would appreciate a letter from them.

2. Professors normally send the same letter to all universities. Sure, this letter is personalized: they spend some time writing about you but it is only one letter. If you have a cordial relationship with your professor, you may ask him/her to further adjust each letter to a particular school (emphasize something specific for that school; leave a personal note for the faculty etc.). However, usually the letter they send out to different universities is the same.

3. Most schools now operate an online application system, i.e. all references are submitted electronically. When you register your application in such an application system, your professor is automatically sent a link with exclusive access to the section where he need to copy-paste a reference for you.

I think what you also may find helpful is being organized:

In order to minimize disturbing your professors, after they agree to write a letter for you, compile one big e-mail with ALL the information about your applications: all the deadlines, the nature of the programme, the faculty etc. So that your professors don't need to look for that info elsewhere.

Then register your professors in all online application systems on the same day - so that they receive all those links on the same day! It will save a lot of their time.

I applied to 9 programmes this year, and my professors submitted all references in two takes. So... just two evenings of their lives they spent on my future. rolleyes.gif

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I will add to Bukharan's excellent overview that, depending on the program/field, some programs still insist on hard copies or will not allow you to send your recommending professors the links to the online system until you have completed your portion of the application. I would check on those when compiling timelines for professors. (I imagine in the sciences most of these are online).

If you need to send hard copy letters, be sure to allow adequate time for long distance posting (although many programs will allow some leeway for letters to show up a bit past the official deadline), and it is considered standard (not to mention polite) to provide an addressed and stamped envelope along with any form the department requires the recommender to fill out. This form will include a waiver (even if you apply online) asking if you wish to waive your right to see the letter submitted for you. Hesitant as I am to take away any of your options, you should know that it's considered bad form in most fields to say anything other than "Yes, I waive my right..." The thinking behind this is that it frees the professor to be fully honest without worrying that you will see it and therefore lends the letter credibility.

When choosing professors, I generally select ones with whom I've had a long and ongoing working relationship. If it's been some time since they have seen you in class/lab for whatever reason or you have new work that demonstrates your current interests, you can use the email to offer copies of old graded work from their courses, fresh work they haven't seen, or a copy of your statement of purpose or CV. This both shows you are organized and helps keep you on their radar.

Ask them politely if and when they would like a follow up/reminder email between initial contact and the deadlines. In the States, it's pretty standard to send a thank you note when they're done and let them know how things turn out. (I recognize that we're much less formal with our professors than most German students/institutions, so I'm not sure what the follow up etiquette would be there).

Viel Glück!

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Thank you two so much for your informative responses! It really helps a lot and now, I feel very informed.

I still have about half a year left to apply, so I can pepare in advance with the help of your hints. It seems to be a lot of work, but not as complicated as I thought.

Thanks again!

// another question: I will finish my Bachelor likely in Feb. 2012. Can I apply without having finished it then? Because of the deadlines are already on Jan. 15th.

Edited by itsmi
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It's quite common to apply to grad school senior year of undergrad (or the last year of an MA). As long as you are in good standing and expect to have the degree in hand by the time of enrollment, there is no problem applying. When they ask for a date of the degree on all the forms, just put the expected one. Ditto for the CV; you can add a (pending) or (expected) note in the education section.

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