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My partner was born outside the U.S. and received their degree from a foreign university. My partner is now living and working in the United States. They have begun to apply to various Ph.D. programs, which all require letters of recommendation from previous professors.

The problem that has been occurring is that it is not common in their culture for universities to ask for letters of recommendation or for professors to write them which has resulted in poorly written letters because of a misunderstanding from the professors on why it's needed or its purpose, as well as the language barrier. This problem is exacerbated when you take into account that it's common to apply to multiple universities. In this case, my partner has attempted to apply to 7 schools.

So now my partner has not only struggled to get in contact and have them write a letter, which they don't normally do, but my partner also has to hound their professors to upload the letters themselves into university systems 7 times over.

This has resulted in multiple applications not being able to be completed before the deadline even though they have been started many months prior.

I feel frustrated for my partner and I am wondering if other foreigners have had similar issues and any suggestions to overcome this.

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    Assuming the professors don't need to tailor the letters to each school, one part of the solution is to use interfolio.com. Then they only have to upload their letter once, and then you can have it sent out to different schools. Feb 13 at 7:04
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    But what kind of solution is it possible to imagine? If people aren't used to write recommendation letters, you have to approach them personally and persuade, and provide examples of what is required. Feb 13 at 7:26
  • @AnonyPostdoc, perhaps expand that to an answer. I've included it in my answer, but you should probably get credit for it.
    – Buffy
    Feb 13 at 19:55
  • Unless your partner is coming from a country where few students apply to graduate school in the US, chances are that her former professors do have experience in writing such letters. Feb 13 at 20:59

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If you have good relationships with the foreign professors, the right way to handle this is to let them know what the requirements are when you ask for help. Hopefully they will accommodate you in some way. But if they aren't familiar with doing this then they need a bit of an education about why it is important and how it might look.

One way is to explain the expectations and importance of the letters in the system to which you are applying. In the US they are quite important. You could also provide them with a sample letter or two that describes some fictional candidate so that they get a feel for it. Something too "gushy" or too "boilerplate" will not be helpful.

The might just appreciate the information you give them.

You can also give them a list of what you think your accomplishments are that they assisted you in to give them a head start. Some professors will ask you for a draft, but I'd suggest not suggesting that as it is a bit pushy. Some people will let you review the letter before it is sent or give you a copy afterwards, though note that some systems forbid this explicitly.

You can even, perhaps, beg a bit; "I know this is an imposition and a bit of a pain, but those dirty, rotten, scoundrels in the US require this sort of nonsense." (Well no, not so far over the top.)

User AnonyPostdoc has also suggested in a comment that inter folio.com can make multiple submissions easier. Perhaps they will expand that to an answer.

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I have seen two approaches: Draft the letter yourself, or have it drafted by someone familiar with the system you are applying to, and get the professor to sign, or in these days upload, it. If there is an admin team, try to involve the secretary. Basically minimise the amount of work for the professor providing the reference. The other approach is to get a masters or some other one year degree in the local system, so you can get local references. This might be unavoidable if the two systems are too far apart or if one regards the other as unreliable. (I'm not saying it's fair.)

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  • Sorry, both of these suggestions are bad advice. The first still requires contact that could be used instead to inform the foreign professor and the second doesn't avoid the problem of getting accepted into a local system and needing letters.
    – Buffy
    Feb 13 at 19:42
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    @Buffy Well, that's what I gave seen working. Good luck getting into a PhD programme coming from Iraq. Feb 13 at 20:03
  • Or from lots of places, actually. But, hopefully, an Iraqi professor wants to advance their students, as do we all.
    – Buffy
    Feb 13 at 20:09

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