I'm submitting three letters of recommendation with my law school applications. Law schools are terrified of attrition and they want assurance that prospective students can handle the coursework — so I'm triangulating my assault, to establish that fact from three different perspectives.
- The first letter is from a professor. He's a mentor with whom I studied for six semesters, so he can certainly attest to my character and capacity as a student.
- The second is from a close friend who is currently a third-year student at Suffolk Law. Under most conditions, I wouldn't expect that a friend's approval would carry much weight — but in this case, she's uniquely qualified to answer their question. They want to know whether I can handle the coursework; she knows me, and she knows the coursework.
- The third is from a professor at Harvard Extension, from the last class I took. Granted, she only knew me for a semester; but on the chance that some admissions officer notices my Jazz Composition degree and wonders whether I can hack traditional scholastics, hopefully this will plug that hole.
Speaking of which, that question of control is my only caveat: My Harvard professor asked me to write my own letter for her. She explained that she does this for two reasons: it gives her a sample of the student's writing, and it prevents her recommendations from sounding too cookie-cutter. I understand both — and after asking around, I've discovered this is relatively normal. Lots of professors have students write their own recommendations.
I know this professor. She's smart and she's dedicated, and she isn't lax and she isn't lazy; so I don't for a moment think she's trying to cut a corner. Nevertheless, I'm ambivalent. On one hand, I don't like imposing on people for favors; so if I'm doing most of the lifting, then I suppose it takes off some of the weight. But still, it seems unethical. Letters of recommendation are supposed to be something more than political advertisements stamped with a tagline, "This message was approved by" — and in an environment where professors claim that the most widespread problem in scholastics is plagiarism, I question the wisdom of having those professors sign their names to recommendations that are prepared by the students who request them.
But if that's the norm, then so be it. I can steer an ethical course in drafting the letter, and that's exactly what I'll do — and then, God willing, I'll be admitted to law school, at which point my ethical hand-wringing will become positively ironic.