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Potential errors in the LoR


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ETH Zurich requires that recommendations be sent via post. So I kinda checked out what my recommender had written for me. Turns out he had a template in which he had left some space for the university (as X university). Which I now doubt he sent to all of the universities I had applied to without doing anything about it. Will that majorly impact my decision? I am fearful of the fact that this might end up hurting my chances of getting into my shortlisted schools :|

Edited by Savingtehplanet
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For reference, this is my profile.

Undergrad Institution: Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad (slated to be converted to an IIT)
Major(s): Environmental Engineering
Minor(s): None
GPA in Major: 8.36/10 (roughly 3.4-3.5 on the US scale)
Overall GPA: 8.36/10
Position in Class: Top 10 out of 60
Type of Student: International male

GRE Scores (revised/old version):
Q: 170
V:  162
W: 5.0

TOEFL Total: 118/120

Research Experience: Two months under a renowned professor in crop science at the University of Aberdeen and an undergraduate research project (unrelated to each other)

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: None

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: None
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Top quizzer? Debater? Blogger?

Special Bonus Points: None I can think of
Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter:

Applying to Where:





UW Madison


UC Davis



UWashington Seattle

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There is no way to know...

certainly the content of the LOR will be more important than to who the letter is addressed to. I'm betting many letters say "To whom it may concern", which means the same exact letter for every school is used. 

That being said, I think there may be another issue. Did you waive your right to see the LOR? Perhaps you didn't for the ETH zurich, but if you did for the other schools, I'd consider that a grave breach of trust between professor and student if you read it. If you didn't waive your rights, then no big deal, but most places ask you to. You should have had him send the letter or place it in a sealed envelope. Maybe it is different in other countries, but this is pretty standard practice in academia for LOR.

I'm no accusing you of anything, I'm just point out something you may have done. I.E, you shouldn't judge your professor for this nor should you bring this up with him unless you never waived these rights for any school.

I hope you head this advice in the future. 

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^ I actually think it's worse than that. Even if you didn't waive your rights,* there is a question of the understanding between you and the professor. Is the professor aware that you are reading his letter, or is he expecting it to be kept confidential and simply delivered by you to the school? Unless the professor gave you permission to read his letter (which it doesn't sound like he did), you are out of bounds. You should not mention this issue to the professor, and all you can do is hope that it doesn't have a large impact on your application. I would bet it's not a deal breaker, since it's not something you can control and I think lots of professors will have some kind of template for writing letters, so this would be a rather small mistake. Your reading the letter without permission, if it were ever found out, would be a much bigger deal. 

* Waiving/not waiving your rights affects whether or not you can ask a school to see school records that include confidential letters of recommendation. It's independent of any understanding you have with a letter writer about whether they allow/expect you to read their letter.

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Thank you much for your advice!

In India, it's pretty common practice for prospective grad students to write their own reco-letters as most of our professors aren't good enough to write one, unfortunately, even at the best institutions in the country. I did waive my right. Not implying that my professors did the same and then consequently there is a certain degree of trust between professors and students, especially the ones whose recommendations you seek.

Hope that typo doesn't end up ruining things for me :|

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1. The typo will not ruin things for you. It's not your fault that your recommender didn't fill in University X and schools will not punish the applicant for this. 

2. As fuzzy pointed out, waiving your right means nothing in this case. Waiving your right only means that you will not use your FERPA rights to ask the school you applied to for a copy of the letter. When you waive your right, you are NOT telling the school that you did not read the reference letter. Waiving your right doesn't even mean you can't nicely ask the school for a copy of your letter afterwards---the school could choose to share the letter with you anyways (one student I knew got a copy of his entire student record when he graduated, including his letters). It just means that the student cannot force the school, using the FERPA laws, to show them the letter. 

3. That said, you really should not have read your letter, even if it's common for students in India to write letters for themselves. This professor did not ask you to read the letter or to write the letter. You should proceed as if you never read the letter. Don't mention it to anyone! 

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