I have 9 and 10 months old recommendation letters. Can I use these when applying to graduate programs (United States)? Is that okay with the admissions committee?

  • 4
    It would be much better to ask your writers for updated letters. It should not be very much work for them. Nov 22 '13 at 19:35
  • @Nate Eldredge the problem is that 2 out of 3 recommenders are out of town so it will be very hard to contact them to redo the letters.
    – user9619
    Nov 22 '13 at 19:42
  • 4
    Well, that's what email is for :) If you've left it too long and they are not able to update their letters before the deadline, you may be able to submit the old ones with your application, and have the writers send the new ones directly to the department as soon as possible. Nov 22 '13 at 19:45

In addition to other points already made, in most situations you do not send the letters yourself, but have the recommenders send the letters directly. Sometimes this involves simply uploading the letters to a web site, but this would be done _by_the_recommenders_, not by you.

Thus, some action will be required by your recommenders.

  • 3
    I wondered about this point a little bit. However, s/he may mean either that the letters are uploaded to an online service like Interfolio where they can be securely sent out by the recomendee without action by the recommender, or maybe that a staff member in his/her department has the letters and can send out new copies (this was the standard arrangement at Berkeley when I was a student). Nov 22 '13 at 22:05
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    One of my recommenders told me he doesn't like the current way of writing letters for job applications (one can basically only write one letter) because writing "You are as good as Gauss" in a letter to Princeton has completely different meanings from that in a letter to Minnesota business school for instance.
    – tqw
    Nov 22 '13 at 22:24
  • 1
    @ZhouFang OK; I'm still not I understand the problem. In your initial comment it sounded like this issue was that your recommender wanted to write multiple versions of the letter and some external force was stopping him; now it sounds like he knows he can do this and that maybe it would be a good thing to do, but he laments the effort involved. Nov 24 '13 at 1:12
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    @BenWebster Well, first I think it might be better to use "one" instead of "you". :) But is the problem you describe a decisive factor about letter writings? It depends. It depends on the qualifications of recommenders. It depends on the strengthness of the undergard/grad program. It depends on a lot of stuff. "X got a good A in my class" will have completely different meanings as the factors I mentioned above vary. It may be impossible to expect how positive a letter is can address everything.
    – tqw
    Nov 24 '13 at 16:06
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    @BenWebster Simply put in this way: if Gauss said student A has a moderate talent in math compared with Riemann and I said student B is even smarter than me, which student would you choose?
    – tqw
    Nov 24 '13 at 16:33

To elaborate on Nate Eldredge's point, this would be a bad idea on several levels:

  • It will look bad with the committee. Presumably the letters are dated and people will notice. It will probably not be interpreted charitably.
  • Presumably an updated letter will may more good things about you, since it will mention whatever you've been doing for past 10 months. Hopefully you've done something worth noting in that time.
  • It's also bad form to use letters so long after they are written without contacting the authors. I don't think there are any precise cutoffs for when one transitions from OK to not OK, but I feel like 10 months is pretty firmly in not OK territory. You need to give the letter writers the chance to update their assessment, hopefully for the better.

I don't understand why people being out of town is a problem for contacting them. As Nate says, just send them an email. The ball will be in their court, and they can figure out whether it's practical or not.

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