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Recommendation Letters for Students to Western Universities
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 12:48 am    Post subject: Recommendation Letters for Students to Western Universities Reply with quote

I have been asked to recommend a student for higher education abroad and I would like to know whether others on the board have been called upon or done so here on mainland China before.

The student, who is seeking the letter, is excellent and I have known her for one academic year; however, because she hasn’t provided me with the sender’s address/educational institution and the academic program she intends to take abroad and because there apparently is an abuse of such letters around, I am worried my letter to her may be misused too.

Any feedback from anyone on the topic would be appreciated.
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rtm



Joined: 13 Apr 2007
Posts: 612
Location: US

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:16 am    Post subject: Re: Recommendation Letters for Students to Western Universit Reply with quote

wonderingjoesmith wrote:
I have been asked to recommend a student for higher education abroad and I would like to know whether others on the board have been called upon or done so here on mainland China before.

The student, who is seeking the letter, is excellent and I have known her for one academic year; however, because she hasn’t provided me with the sender’s address/educational institution and the academic program she intends to take abroad and because there apparently is an abuse of such letters around, I am worried my letter to her may be misused too.

Any feedback from anyone on the topic would be appreciated.

I don't understand how the letter could be misused as a result of her giving you information about where and what she wants to study. Those are pretty important pieces of information for writing a recommendation letter.

I'm also not sure what you mean by "she hasn’t provided me with the sender’s address" -- wouldn't the sender be you?

Most universities in the US want recommendation letters to be sent by the recommender, not by the student.
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry. I should have left the word "sender's"out. Yes, the sender is me.

Where and what the student intends to study is, in my view, significant, and the fact that I send it, not the student, is as important too.

Giving such letters to students without addresses of places/people who are to read them opens up the possible abuse, and then allows students to send them furthers the risks of the document tampering.
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JamesD



Joined: 17 Mar 2003
Posts: 729
Location: "As far as I'm concerned bacon comes from a magical happy place."

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wrote one for a student a while ago. Letters like this should go from you to the uni; not you - the student - the uni.

During the application process the university should supply the student with a name or at least the address of the office to which the letter should be sent. Normally the student doesn't see the letter, the person writing the reference at some point notes the school name in the letter (I think Rose Marie would be a great addition to the Evelyn Wood University student body.) and sends it directly to the school.
If she wants more than one you can offer to have her supply you with the school names, major, and addressed envelopes and you will mail them. If she doesn't care to do it this way assure her it's SOP in the west with universities and employers.


Last edited by JamesD on Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:39 am; edited 1 time in total
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roadwalker



Joined: 24 Aug 2005
Posts: 1531
Location: Ch

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've done it for a select few students whom I thought of as having a good chance of doing well in a western university. For one, at least, applying to graduate programs in the US, I was directed to the universities' direct correspondence websites and in each was asked a series of questions in addition to my statement. Honestly, the student in question having had American university professors by that point, I was a little taken aback that she would go with my recommendation but perhaps her professors weren't as enthusiastic. I didn't press the issue after the first couple of times.

I've also sent open letters of recommendation with my contact details in .pdf form. The value of a letter of recommendation from a non-professor? I'd guess not much, but it lets the good students know that you value them and have confidence in them. And who knows...?
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JamesD



Joined: 17 Mar 2003
Posts: 729
Location: "As far as I'm concerned bacon comes from a magical happy place."

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think a lot of students unfamiliar with western structure view these recommendation letters the same as employment 'reference letters' which they can just copy and mass mail.

You can explain that a uni recommendation letter is not the same and needs to be specific to the school.
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doogsville



Joined: 17 Nov 2011
Posts: 700
Location: China

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A lot of students go through agents to secure their places in overseas universities. I try to discourage it, since you're paying the agent money to do something you could do yourself, and if your English is good enough to study there it should be good enough to apply for a place. The problem is some agents claim to have 'connections' and tell the unfortunate students they are more likely to get a place with the agents help. I don't believe this to be true, but in China this would be very true and the students have no experience outside of the Chinese system.

Anyway, I rather naively gave a letter of recommendation to a student I used to teach privately, who is a young businesswoman seeking to do an MBA, for her to give to her agent who said they would forward it to the university. In the end she didn't go, but I did get an email from a totally different university, for another student I had never heard of, asking a question about my recommendation. Needless to say I told them I knew nothing about it, and had my ex student contact the agent and tell them if they used my letter again I would contact every university in the UK and let them know the agent was a fraud.

I've written a couple since, but always either at the direct request of the university by email, or I've been given a web link by the university for filling in an online recommendation form.
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Non Sequitur



Joined: 23 May 2010
Posts: 2573
Location: China

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

doogsville wrote:
A lot of students go through agents to secure their places in overseas universities. I try to discourage it, since you're paying the agent money to do something you could do yourself, and if your English is good enough to study there it should be good enough to apply for a place. The problem is some agents claim to have 'connections' and tell the unfortunate students they are more likely to get a place with the agents help. I don't believe this to be true, but in China this would be very true and the students have no experience outside of the Chinese system.

Anyway, I rather naively gave a letter of recommendation to a student I used to teach privately, who is a young businesswoman seeking to do an MBA, for her to give to her agent who said they would forward it to the university. In the end she didn't go, but I did get an email from a totally different university, for another student I had never heard of, asking a question about my recommendation. Needless to say I told them I knew nothing about it, and had my ex student contact the agent and tell them if they used my letter again I would contact every university in the UK and let them know the agent was a fraud.

I've written a couple since, but always either at the direct request of the university by email, or I've been given a web link by the university for filling in an online recommendation form.


I feel the latter approach is the best ie respond to enquiries by the foreign school.
The ex student applicant can state on their application form:
'My former teacher Mr Hiram N Firem is happy to be contacted about my suitability. Mr Firem's email address is..'
I wonder doogsville what possibly motivates the agent to use another applicant's letter in an application to a school?
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dean_a_jones



Joined: 03 Jul 2009
Posts: 1140
Location: Wuhan, China

PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As others have said, a decent school will often ask the student for your details, then contact you directly and have you send the letter (or fill in an online form). This is definitely true for most postgraduate study, but not so sure for undergrad study (as I imagine organising that kind of system for so many students would be a bit of a headache).

What country is the student applying to study in? If it is the US, then everything varies depending the schools. If it is somewhere like the UK, then there is (at undergrad level) a centralised application procedure for university study which will have its own rules/procedures for this sort of thing.

If it is just a matter of giving them a letter, you should write it out, sign in, seal it in an envelope and sign/stamp over the seal, as this is about the best you can do if handing this to the student. To be frank, when schools allow students to submit letters on their own like this, they themselves know of the potential problems this causes and I suspect the letters often therefore are not considered that important. As someone else mentioned, if they really do want to follow up they will chase up the letter writer by email or phone as it is usually quite easy to figure out if someone has provided a bogus letter.

In terms of the content, just comment on what you know from the following: their English ability (in particular writing and reading), academic abilities/study skills, knowledge of the discipline they are applying for, personal qualities that would make them a good student, extracurricular activities etc.

Also second that this should not be a generic letter, but should be directly addressed to the university and school, so they will need to give you this. If they are applying to more than one place, then you will have to change this information for each letter.

Hope that helps.
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

JamesD wrote:
I wrote one for a student a while ago. Letters like this should go from you to the uni; not you - the student - the uni.
This is what I believe the standard is. Students pay to apply to the universities and they are provided with all the details where their applications are going.
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

doogsville wrote:
A lot of students go through agents to secure their places in overseas universities. I try to discourage it, since you're paying the agent money to do something you could do yourself, and if your English is good enough to study there it should be good enough to apply for a place. The problem is some agents claim to have 'connections' and tell the unfortunate students they are more likely to get a place with the agents help. I don't believe this to be true, but in China this would be very true and the students have no experience outside of the Chinese system.

Anyway, I rather naively gave a letter of recommendation to a student I used to teach privately, who is a young businesswoman seeking to do an MBA, for her to give to her agent who said they would forward it to the university. In the end she didn't go, but I did get an email from a totally different university, for another student I had never heard of, asking a question about my recommendation. Needless to say I told them I knew nothing about it, and had my ex student contact the agent and tell them if they used my letter again I would contact every university in the UK and let them know the agent was a fraud.

I've written a couple since, but always either at the direct request of the university by email, or I've been given a web link by the university for filling in an online recommendation form.
The agents here, perhaps more than the school, are the people I am concerned about. Local students are pretty much unfamiliar with what’s common in our nations which may be the reason why they opt for the third party help, and folks around, who are so desperately keen to represent the ambitious youngsters, may practice whatever it takes to accomplish the job they may have guaranteed their clients.

There are a few motives that local representatives of students may have to cheat with the letters; one of them may be that they do not have adequate knowledge in the area of writing such letters, another one that some of their clients, who come from questionable local schools have little to go on with.

I guess waiting for a university request the letter or online rec letter are professional choices to go with. However, I am worried students are working against the time and not providing them with such letters early enough may take their chances away.
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Bud Powell



Joined: 11 Jul 2013
Posts: 1453

PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've written several letters of recommendation for Chinese students on my college stationary here in the States. I've left the name and recipient's address off the letter because I knew the students were applying to to several schools and intended to copy the letter for inclusion to several colleges and universities. I see no problem with that. If the schools to which they apply want to contact me to check the veracity of the letter, my name, college name, phone number, and my email address appears on the stationary. I've never been asked to write a letter and seal it with a signature or seal. My college letterhead sufficed.

I think a lot of people on this forum have no experience in applying for tertiary education themselves. Some profs will go to the trouble of printing ten separate letters with ten separate addresses, and seal the envelope with a stamp ,or a signature but the vast majority won't.

Some America colleges request a separate, personalized letter in a sealed and stamped envelop. Some don't. Most American profs can't be bothered with more than one or two letters of recommendation.

I've never been asked to write a letter to a Chinese university and seal it and stamp the back or sign across the back of the envelope over the closure. My college letterhead sufficed.
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Bud Powell



Joined: 11 Jul 2013
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wrote one for a student a while ago. Letters like this should go from you to the uni; not you - the student - the uni.

For Graduate school, the sealed letter is sent to the prospective grad student in a sealed, signed envelope that is sent to the university's graduate school. Usually 3-4 are required from 3-4 professors. The grad student places his letters of rec into a large envelope along with sealed copies of transcripts and the student's own personal statement and the requisite application form. The grad school forwards all of the papers to the department in which the student expects to study. The reason why it is done this way is 1. The student must be accepted to the grad school and 2. all of the information is placed in a folder and sent to the department.

Because of the application fees, most American grad students apply for no more than 1-2 graduate schools, so it is no problem for a prof to run off 1-2 letters with different addresses. The problem comes in when the prof "forgets" about the letter of rec and doesn't produce them in time.
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bud Powell wrote:
I wrote one for a student a while ago. Letters like this should go from you to the uni; not you - the student - the uni.

For Graduate school, the sealed letter is sent to the prospective grad student in a sealed, signed envelope that is sent to the university's graduate school. Usually 3-4 are required from 3-4 professors. The grad student places his letters of rec into a large envelope along with sealed copies of transcripts and the student's own personal statement and the requisite application form. The grad school forwards all of the papers to the department in which the student expects to study. The reason why it is done this way is 1. The student must be accepted to the grad school and 2. all of the information is placed in a folder and sent to the department.

Because of the application fees, most American grad students apply for no more than 1-2 graduate schools, so it is no problem for a prof to run off 1-2 letters with different addresses. The problem comes in when the prof "forgets" about the letter of rec and doesn't produce them in time.
In fact, a couple of my coworkers are involved in the letters writing as well. Now, in Chinese schools that aren't strictly controlled by the western college boards the paperwork is probably more often dealt with by agents. The transcripts may be impossible for the applicants are not graduated at the time of the application. Perhaps, the agents take most of the liability for applications away from local schools.

Chinese, who apply to study in American universities, often have enough money. If they can afford to pay the high tuition fees for foreign students in the US, they may as well have the extra few hundred dollars to fill in a few more applications. The time and effort of some honest people that participate in this process is probably something to think about.
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wonderingjoesmith



Joined: 19 Aug 2012
Posts: 910
Location: Guangzhou

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 4:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bud Powell wrote:
I've written several letters of recommendation for Chinese students on my college stationary here in the States. I've left the name and recipient's address off the letter because I knew the students were applying to to several schools and intended to copy the letter for inclusion to several colleges and universities. I see no problem with that. If the schools to which they apply want to contact me to check the veracity of the letter, my name, college name, phone number, and my email address appears on the stationary. I've never been asked to write a letter and seal it with a signature or seal. My college letterhead sufficed.

I think a lot of people on this forum have no experience in applying for tertiary education themselves. Some profs will go to the trouble of printing ten separate letters with ten separate addresses, and seal the envelope with a stamp ,or a signature but the vast majority won't.

Some America colleges request a separate, personalized letter in a sealed and stamped envelop. Some don't. Most American profs can't be bothered with more than one or two letters of recommendation.

I've never been asked to write a letter to a Chinese university and seal it and stamp the back or sign across the back of the envelope over the closure. My college letterhead sufficed.
It seems you have quite a bit of experience to shed light on this forum but it doesn’t look like you’ve got enough to judge either the conditions or teachers in China. While it is well known that there are some, foreign teachers on mainland, who may not be capable, or even qualified, to apply for higher education in States, folks around are pretty familiar with the local customs and the way business functions here. Most contributors to this forum appear to be well knowledgeable in the country (where you aren’t), and they have demonstrated their experiences on this or other topics too.

What you are saying about professors that may find it annoying or time consuming to write so many letters for their students is apprehensible. I have a bit over 20 students in my class and writing just 3 letters to different unis for each of them is to me unimaginable. Only a few of them are worth the attention and that’s the concern. I wouldn’t want my best students sharing my praise for them with the ones who have little to offer. If it happens in States, so be it; the applicants are already there.

In any case, are you familiar with Chinese schools or agents that serve so anxiously and industriously?
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