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I'm an undergraduate math major (just completed my second year), and I had applied for a summer school (online due to the pandemic) in one of my interest areas. I have taken two courses in this area with the same professor (one of them was a graduate course if it matters). I did pretty well in both courses, i.e. got As.

I requested the aforementioned professor to write me a recommendation letter for the summer school, which they gladly did - but unfortunately, I did not get accepted (the school has about a 14% selection rate).

  1. Should I inform the professor (i.e. my letter writer for this program) that I have been rejected? Do they already know, in which case I don't have to do anything? Do programs typically inform about acceptance/rejections to letter writers too, or do they only inform the applicants? This is my first time applying to a summer school, so I don't really know how this works.

  2. Also, given this experience, would it make sense to ask the same professor again to write me a letter for graduate school applications? I don't know what went wrong - (i) if the professor didn't write me a strong enough letter, or (ii) if I really wasn't good enough to get into the program. It's probably the latter, but given the probabilistic nature of this dilemma, I really don't know what conclusion to draw. Moreover, graduate school applications are going to be far more important than applying to a summer program, so I should know what to do.

Please let me know in case any clarifications are needed. Thanks a lot!

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Yes, you should tell them and yes, it makes sense to ask them again. Likely the rejection wasn't due to the letter they wrote, but to the level of competition for positions in the program.

But, in general, your letter writers should be people who know you and your work well and can make a confident prediction of your future success. I assume that this is one of those people. And informing them might get you an even stronger letter.

Note, of course, that the standards are different for a summer program and a graduate program. And the competition won't be less. Apply to universities that fall over a range of rankings so that you have a better chance of acceptance. If you apply only to top ranked small schools you greatly lessen your chances.

While a summer program has a fixed number of "seats", applying to several schools opens the number of possibilities.

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  • Okay, thank you! How do I tell them that I've been rejected (in an email)? Would it be appropriate to just say: "Just wanted to let you know that I wasn't accepted to the program. Thank you for writing the letter!" – epsilon-emperor May 22 at 19:02
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    The reason I ask how to convey this in an email is because I want to thank them for writing the letter, and also make sure that my non-acceptance is not misinterpreted as them not being able to write a good enough letter or something. Hope you understand my concern. Thanks! – epsilon-emperor May 22 at 19:05
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    You have the right idea. "Thanks. Unfortunately I wasn't accepted. I really appreciate your help now as in the past." Those are the essential elements. They've been in similar situations themselves, perhaps, and are unlikely to misinterpret. – Buffy May 22 at 19:17
  • Apologies, I'm not a native English speaker - what do you mean by "I really appreciate your help now as in the past"? – epsilon-emperor May 23 at 3:46
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    @epsilon-emperor: what do you mean by "I really appreciate your help now as in the past"? --- This means roughly "I really appreciate your past help and I would additionally appreciate your help now". – Dave L Renfro May 23 at 8:32

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