About those rules for recommendations? We kinda forgot one.
We do say this fairly frequently (like here: You cannot write your own letters of recommendation and here: Writing your own letters of recommendation is unethical) but we apparently cannot say it often enough.
So we’ll spell it out:
You cannot write your own letters of recommendation. Writing your own letters of recommendation is unethical.
Around this time every year, we get people submitting their no-go Rd 1 apps to us for the Post-Mortem Rejection Analysis and we see letters of recommendation that we strongly suspect were written by the BSer themself. Sometimes we mention our suspicion, sometimes we don’t. If we do, we’re either met with indignant denials (perhaps justified; who knows, maybe we’re wrong), or innocent-sounding questions about what made us think so. (This is why we often don’t mention the suspicions. Because, what’s the point? Note: If we recently reviewed your application, we are NOT using this post as some passive-aggressive method of accusing you of doing this. This post is about patterns observed over years. It’s not about any specific BSer or any specific app we’ve reviewed lately. Please don’t get all paranoid ‘n stuff.)
Every now and then we get into an honest dialogue with a BSer about it and they serve up plenty of reasons for doing it:
“My recommender is too busy.”
“My recommender doesn’t speak English.”
“My recommender doesn’t write well.”
Or maybe what the BSer says but doesn’t actually say out loud: “My recommender won’t say good things about me.”
Regardless if they’re true or not, none of those are legimitate reasons for you to write your own recommendations.
There simply does not EXIST a valid reason for you to do that.
Writing your own recommendations is UNETHICAL.
It’s DISHONEST. Another word for that is CHEATING.
Do you really want to go through life cheating your way through? Are you that kind of person? Even unintentionally? (Or carelessly, by just not thinking it through and recognizing this behavior for what it is?)
The other point to be making is: Very often, an outsider reviewer – like, an admissions person at the school you’re applying to – can TELL when you wrote it. There are signs and indications. It’s often not that hard to detect. And that is the quickest path to rejection that exists.
Besides which, many schools have added clauses to their recommenders’ section, whereby a) you have to attest that you did not write the recommendation, and b) your RECOMMENDER has to attest that you did not write it. So by writing your own rec and then having the recommender upload it, not only are you being a liar, but you’re forcing the recommender to lie, too.
That certainly feels more than a little distasteful.
BTW, if you’re worried that your recommenders are not well equipped to handle the task of producing those letters of recommendation, we have the Recommenders Instruction Sets for exactly that purpose.
Now that we’ve gone all negative and yucky-feeling on you today: How do you deal with those tricky situations where you aren’t convinced that your recommender is up to the job?
Well, the very first step is TO TALK TO THEM. There are no laws or morals against having conversations with your recommenders, to figure out a) are they willing and able to perform this important task, and b) do they have a clue what they might say about you. On point a, you should be able to gauge if this person is excited about your professional prospects and eager to help you advance in your career, and thus will be willing to put forth the effort to complete this task in a positive manner. If you sense that they’re not all gung-ho about you or your interest in bschool, then that right there is reason to consider asking someone else.
On point b, it’s totally fine and acceptable for you to be suggesting ideas for them on what to write. Or at least, brainstorm with them. You don’t want to dictate what your recommenders say – either by being too adamant about what topics you think they should cover, and also specifically you don’t want to literally spell out the contents (that’s pretty much the same as you writing it, right?). However, it’s absolutely OK for you to come prepared with some projects or examples that they might want to discuss. If you want some guidance on what you’re planning to suggest to your recommenders – or who you should be tapping for this task in the first place – then our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator is perfect.
Our point with this discussion is to help you think through some ideas that you might then suggest to your recommenders. THEY must write the recs themselves. To do it any other way is unethical and not only is it highly likely that the adcoms will be able to figure out that you wrote your own letter, which means they won’t let you in in the first place, but it will also invoke the ire of the ‘Snark should we hear that you’re doing this (or see it firsthand when you submit your app for some feedback). Play by the rules. You’ll get further in life that way, we promise.