Monday, December 9, 2013

Uploading letters of recommendation to grad schools and academic jobs

The time of year when I write letters for undergrad students applying to grad schools, and graduate students applying for jobs, is just ending. There are a bunch of services via which letter writers are asked to upload their letters. Some (further) consolidation would be efficient.  Below are some reflections on the process of uploading letters (I didn't send any through the U.S. Post Office this year.)

Uploading recommendations for graduate school
ApplyYourself, Inc. has sold software to many schools.
"This online Recommendation service is provided by ApplyYourself, Inc. ("ApplyYourself"), a subsidiary of Hobsons, Inc.. ApplyYourself provides online Recommendation services for educational and other institutions."

It asks you to set a new password for each graduate program, and doesn't link to the accounts with the same password that I've already set up for other graduate programs at that university, not to mention for other schools. Multiple graduate programs in the same school need to have the same information added each time. It requires complicated passwords:
In order to begin your online Recommendation for xxx, you first need to create your password. After creating your password, you will be logged in automatically and will find further instructions on how to complete the Recommendation. Password must be between 8-30 characters, contain at least 1 uppercase letter (A-Z), 1 lowercase letter (a-z), 1 number (0-9), and 1 of the following special characters: !@#$%^&*()_+|~-=\`{}[]:";'<>?,./ Spaces are not allowed."

When submitting multiple letters to the same school you sometimes get this:
"An error has occurred. You either have more than one connection to this website or you did not properly log out of your last session. Please close all browser windows, then open a new browser window to access this site.Also, please be sure to logout of all future sessions to prevent this situation. Once logged in, you can logout by clicking on the 'logout' link located in the upper right hand corner of the page."
CollegeNET Letters of Recommendation is a service used by several universities, and when I log on I can see multiple (in this case 2) letter requests.  I can't submit one letter, but have to submit it again for each application. But at least I didn't have to logout and log in again...  Some universities (Princeton is one) ask you lots of questions that have to be filled in on a web form before you can proceed to upload your letter. Here's the kind of error message you get for not filling in some essential detail about yourself, like your zip code.
The data you just supplied contains 1 omission or datatype mismatch.
This problem will have an explanation above it.
Both the explanation and the problem will be in a box.

Data Validation:

Some fields are required by the institution to have a value.
Other fields need the data to satisfy length limitations
or certain formatting constraints.
Once these corrections are made,
the form will be ready for submission

Once you succeed in submitting the letter, it signs off with this helpful suggestion
You should print or save this page for your records. The information below can be used to track your form should you have any questions.
Law Schools use a service provided by the Law Schools Admissions Council
LSAC Evaluations is now LSAC Applicant References
It requires you to open an account, complete with security questions such as "what is your favorite number?"  It took me many attempts before finding a username and password that it would accept.
When I tried to upload my letter, I got an error message saying that they didn't accept pdf files.  Fortunately it accepted a .docx file. But after it has been slowly uploaded, you have to proofread it and check a box certifying that you have before the very slow webpage digests it...

Uploading jobmarket letters for economists is by and large easier than uploading letters for admission to grad schools, and my impression is that it is somewhat easier than jobmarket letters for other disciplines. This is largely due to the large market share presently enjoyed by, which makes it easy to upload a generic letter that will be sent to each of the employers enrolled on to whom that student has applied.  (I recalled from previous years that with somewhat more effort you can upload different letters to be sent to different employers. This year I had trouble figuring out how to do that, but minutes after sending a query on the contact page got a reply that explained how to do it--the key is to find where to turn off autodelivery:)

Their competition comes from two directions. One is from similar services, some of which are discussed below. In economics, these command a much smaller part of the market, i.e. each letter uploaded to them goes to fewer employers. The main competition to is software companies that sell a platform to universities for all of that university's applications. That is, for many letters of recommendation, you go to the university web site to upload your letter. There must be only a few software suppliers, since many of these sites look the same.

Here are some notes, first on two upload platforms, then on two fairly typical university sites.

AcademicJobsOnline  didn't make it easy to see which jobs were being applied to, hence it encouraged a generic letter that could be sent to any academic position. This is the feedback you get after uploading a letter.

Done Reference Letter Submission: Confirmation

Your letter has been successfully submitted. This is the final confirmation; no more confirmation or receipt will be sent by email.  

Interfolio also made it easy to submit a generic letter (one that would go with any application), and I didn't see an easy way to submit an application-specific letter.

While many schools with their own websites seem to use common software,  I had trouble convincing the unique HBS site that I was a human being, since I failed to write the correct captcha the first time I tried. In between attempts I had to upload my letter again, i.e. it deleted the letter I had uploaded before failing to prove I was human.

Columbia University's online Recruitment of Academic Personnel System (RAPS) site is annoying, since you  get requests for each position that a candidate applies for, and each requires (the same) letter, but after you have uploaded the letter for one position you have to close your browser before it will let you upload the letter for the next.

NYU Stern's Faculty Management System site asks you to use Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox (but even when I do it often doesn't recognize the .pdf files I try to upload, and gives me an error message telling me to upload a pdf...) I've mostly had to email in the letters to Stern...

Update: some further guidance for the perplexed from EJM:
Hi Professor Roth,
You can upload letters for a candidate to only be delivered to a particular institution the candidate has applied to by clicking on the "show applications" button for a candidate. A list of all their currently active applications will appear as well as options to submit individual letters for each of them.

A more detailed description of how to do this (with pictures) can be found here:

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