Talk about the law of unintended consequences.
When a collection of top schools came out with simplified requirements for recommenders last year, where they were asking only two questions – and the same two questions – we b!tched and moaned about how it was a nice idea and we could see why it might seem helpful to recommenders, but that we thought it was misguided. Our main critique at the time was not the attempt to standardize, but instead, that the two questions that these schools had standardized on were way too limiting, and that they didn’t even have any open-ended or optional questions for the recommenders to answer for just-in-case situations.
So guess what?
This year, the schools have made it worse.
The state of MBA recommendation requirements this year is SIGNIFICANTLY MORE DIFFICULT for recommenders than it was BEFORE the schools made these changes in 2014.
In fact, it’s just downright awful. The schools have screwed things up royally. Each one is out for its own needs – ok fine, that makes sense, they have to optimize their own processes and ask the questions that serve their own criteria in their admissions reviews. So what did they do? THEY CHANGED THE STANDARDIZED QUESTIONS. The first one specifically.
No longer are they standardized – except that they sort of give the appearance of being standardized. As a result, they have now COMPLETELY COMPLICATED AND MUFFED UP THE PROCESS OF ASKING SOME SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO RECOMMENDERS.
It’s honestly one of the most frustrating things we’ve encountered in this business in, like, ever.
It was already bad last year, the first year of “standardization”, because of the variations that schools like Duke and Kellogg had made. Laughably, Duke even has language in its recommenders’ system where they tell recommenders that they’re doing them a favor by “aligning” their questions with what other schools ask. Sorry, Duke. You have not done that. You can quit patting yourself on the back now.
Continuing on with the discussion for everyone… Yes we’ve opened up more of this post than we normally would since we want to let the adcoms see this! (ulterior snarky motives)
Here’s the list of worst offenders – these schools are making it VERY DIFFICULT on recommenders:
If you’re applying to multiple schools on that list – or heaven forfend, all three – then just, ugh. Your recommenders are likely to have trouble navigating this mess.
You can also add UCLA and Berkeley-Haas to a less-offensive version of that “difficult” list too; beyond the “standard” two, they’ve both got a third head-scratcher question – of course, each one is different than the other’s – that your recommenders may not quite know how to handle.
For the record: MIT and Tuck have resisted this trend completely. They have stuck with their own unique sets of questions – which seems like it would be a burden. But it’s not. (well it sort of is, since they have A LOT of questions, which can be a bummer when there’s so many schools you’re asking for recommendations for.) But their questions are different enough that your recommender will KNOW that they’re different and will be able to proceed accordingly by writing new answers from scratch. For the schools that put their own tweaks on the questions, it adds undue complications and headaches for a diligent recommender trying to follow the instructions. The altogether-unique requirements where each school was different was actually better. Yeah it’s a lot of work for your recommenders, and in this era where there are fewer essays, which encourages more BSers to submit to more schools, then it’s offloading work in a weird way from you the applicant, to these other people from whom you’re asking favors.
The schools reduced the number of essays per apps. This resulted in more applicants applying to more schools. That’s led to an era of ever-increasing apps at the schools, which all the schools like because it helps them with their rankings.
But there’s this unrepresented class of participant in the mix: The recommenders. They’re getting the shaft here.
Sheesh people. Bad bad bad. You admissions folks have taken a somewhat challenging situation with LORs and made it much worse – and the burden is placed on an innocent third party to the entire transaction. One who’s not really all that motivated to jump through your hoops. And who shouldn’t have to.
The one positive? Last year we complained that the schools were too restrictive and did not even have an “optional” question for recommenders. This year, a bunch of schools have added that in. Stanford and Wharton led the way and those two are the most “standardized” of any. If you’re applying to both of them, your recommenders are in luck – at least insofar as those two schools are concerned.
Unfortunately they’re like the only two programs of any that we can think of where the requirements are actually the same.
Oh yeah, there’s another improvement: Many schools removed the ridiculous word count requirements that they’d published on the questions. We imagine that that generated a LOT of worried calls from Brave Supplicants asking what happens if their recommenders wrote more than the limit. (The answer to that question is: Nothing. There is never a penalty on your application if your recommender writes more than the school asks for. This year some schools even removed the website field limits to allow for a lot more text to be entered in their recommenders’ forms.)
So that unneeded complication and worry-creator was eliminated. Thankfully.
The only benefit to all of this?
EssaySnark is selling a helluva lotta Recommender’s Instruction Sets this season.
OK so who gets the award for the simplest recommendation requirements?
Two questions. Simple instructions in their online form. Consistent from year to year. We could be wrong about this but theirs may even be the ones that the schools modeled the “standards” on originally (it was either Columbia’s or Harvard’s, not sure which school had these two questions first, but both had them for years, not just since 2014).
Here’s some advice from last year on preparing your recommenders.
And oh yeah, did we mention Recommender’s Instruction Sets?