The perils (and perks) of writing your own recommendations

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The perils (and perks) of writing your own recommendations

A recent survey by the Association of Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) reported that 38% percent of applicants reported writing at least one of their recommendation letters. Many admissions consults suspect that nearly two thirds of applicants have written their own recommendations.

The findings surprised a number of business school admissions officers, many of whom believed that only a small minority were writing their own recommendations.

Several admissions consultants have suggested that the practice is not only acceptable, but practically required of those who want to submit the best possible application.

The practice is particularly common among international students, many of whom come from cultures that tend to place emphasis on different traits than those business schools are looking for, or who might be unfamiliar with the process. And a supervisor from Toyko will tend to be much less effusive and openly complimentary than a supervisor from New York.

On the other hand, some candidates (especially those in MBA-heavy industries like banking and finance), might feel uncomfortable pressing the point when their supervisor tells the applicant to write the recommendation themselves and then send it over to the supervisor to sign.

So what are b-schools doing?

Several schools, including Tuck and Stanford, have clarified their recommendation policy to state that any student who prepares their own recommendation is at risk of having their admission or enrollment terminated. One hope is that the clear prohibition will allow applicants to feel more comfortable refusing a “you write it and I’ll sign it” request from their supervisor.

LTG’s “alma mater” MIT Sloan, has asked all incoming students to write their own recommendation letter as one of the two required essays. The tongue-in-cheek move also makes it harder for students to write two more letters.

Harvard and Stanford have agreed upon a common set of recommendation questions

Some business school admissions insiders are pushing for business school admissions committees to adopt a universal recommendation system or even a common application similar to those used by undergraduate and law school programs.

What should applicants do?

Each applicant must make their own decision about whether they’re comfortable writing their own recommendation letter. If you wish to avoid being caught in an ethical dilemma, one suggestion is to provide your recommender with a “packet” of things like your resume and past achievements. A packet makes it easier for the recommender and guarantees you a more on-point recommendation.

If a supervisor asks you to write your own letter, you can always explain that many business schools are tightening the rules about writing your own recommendations and even looking at recommendations more closely.

Did you or any of your fellow applicants write their own recommendations?  Is writing your own recommendations fraud or just inevitable? Weigh in via the comments below.

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