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I have a situation. I have got GRE score of 324. My academics are pretty strong as well (5.1/6.0). I am applying for MS to US universities. In the process of gaining letters of recommendations, I do not have too many options. One of the professor at our department has pre-written letters, because he is busy most of the times. He makes rudimentary changes to it to make it suitable for each candidate, but the gist remains the same. From the experience of past students, he asks the GRE score and he somehow thinks that it is the only "good" metric of evaluation. So he has some 3-4 versions of these letters and based on a GRE score he selects a theme. I also came to know that if student is under 320, letter is excellent, that is, it is more balanced. And over 320, there is more of a high pitching.

I am not targeting many 1st class universities. I am more selective and I really do not want this bluffing. Obviously, I cannot reveal to him that I know his procedure of writing the letters and I need one for below 320. My question is, may I lie about my GRE score to him? When he gets emails from universities, can he see my GRE score? I definitely do not want him to know that I lied, at any point in time, even after admission. Are there any other options?

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    The GRE score range is 130 to 170, and a higher score is better. You refer to a score of 324, and apparently lower is better in your scenario. Please edit your post to clarify. – ff524 Mar 8 '16 at 5:53
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    "if student is under 320, letter is excellent, that is, it is more balanced. And over 320, there is more of a high pitching." Could you clarify this? I don't know what you mean by balanced or high pitching. – user37208 Mar 8 '16 at 5:56
  • @ff524 GRE score range is 340, 170 for Quant and 170 for verbal. FYI - ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores – oh_dear_i_love_coding Mar 8 '16 at 6:29
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    I haven't heard people refer to a sum score like that before. – ff524 Mar 8 '16 at 6:34
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    I would be concerned about asking that professor for a recommendation anyway. If you have noticed his system, it is quite likely other professors in his field have noticed as well, especially if they have seen two or more practically identical letters from him. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 8 '16 at 9:53
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I am tempted to say: "Never ever lie on an issue like that." Actually, I say: Never ever lie on an issue like that. First of all, it's wrong, plain and simple. Second, from a more practical point of view, you never know how it's going to bite you back.

It can taint you forever, even if here you are downplaying your achievement. It will be difficult for people to believe that you actually did that, and they will start believing that you are untruthful in other aspects, too. Frankly, it will raise more than a few question marks if it should come out.

You'll have to live with the exaggerating letters, or else to find someone else to write you a sensible one.

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  • Disclaimer: I do not know about GRE scores, but understood from the gist of the question that a too high score would cause the recommendation to be ridiculously exaggerated which OP wants to prevent. Since I am aware of analogous cases in other contexts, I think the question is legitimate. Perhaps the GRE information should be corrected/adapted, as the score range of the OP seems double the official one. – Captain Emacs Mar 8 '16 at 6:14
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No, you may not lie about your GRE score. Because:

ACADEMIA IS A VERY SMALL PLACE

Seriously, let me say it again (in normal letters this time):

Academia is a very small place.

Really, you have no idea how small of a place academia is. Trust me, this will come back to bite you, as Captain Emacs said. People talk, and one way or another, because of some unexpected set of circumstances that you cannot control or predict, your lie will be discovered and you will pay dearly for your mistake, possibly with irreparable damage to your career. So remember this: lying is in general a bad idea, but lying in such a small place as academia about a crucial thing like your GRE score is just inexcusably foolish and risky.

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  • And even if it were big, it's still too small for such a "trumped"-down story. +1 – Captain Emacs Mar 9 '16 at 0:18
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The best thing to do is just talk to the professor about this.

If you're worried that the recommendation letter might be too strong or too weak or too generic, just talk to him. Express your concerns and see what he says.

If you don't think his letter will benefit you then try to find an alternative letter writer, but don't lie.

Side note: I find it odd that you know this information considering recommendation letters are usually never made available to students.

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I was tempted to write Marquis de LaGrange's "When we ask advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice." but your case is actually quite interesting as you are ostensibly lying "not in your favor". I agree with the others that lying will come back to haunt you, perhaps immediately if the prof asks to see proof of your score. Personally I'd be pissed about being lied to, no matter in which direction the lie goes.

So perhaps two other options:

  1. You write that you do not have too many options, but you also write "One of the professor at our department has pre-written letters" -- so there are others? Is this prof really the right one, both in the sense that you had to lie to get the letter you want (now), and in the sense that his practice is apparently known? If he is busy and these are his practices, then how much value does this letter have? And are other profs not a better choice?

  2. If you really want a letter from this prof, can you talk to him about the letters, not his process of selecting them? Can you, for example, say that you have seen both letters "low" and "high" and that you'd much prefer the "low" one? It's walking a tightrope here, as you cannot tell him what to write and he might be convinced you deserve the "better" one (and avoid "low" and "high"). But if it does not blow up in your face, it might work.

There are also two other aspects:

  1. If this prof is known and his procedure (or letter of recommendation) as well, perhaps the issue isn't as large as it appears to be. You might be shooting yourself in the leg here when you go for the one you consider to be "better" here. It also reminds me of the practice to exaggerate a little in applications. It's a practice I abhor, so I understand the concerns, but truth is, if everyone exaggerates and everyone knows about it, being honest is actually lying in that situation. Yep, sounds strange but true. You might be going against social conventions without others knowing, so they get a wrong picture of you and your qualities. In being "formally" honest you might provide a wrong picture of yourself and undersell yourself.

  2. It appears as if you want to match the quality of the recommendation to the level of the university you want to apply to. It seems like a fear of being "overqualified". But if these universities have two applicants and one spot, which one will they chose? Do they really go for the one that is on their level (that would be brutally honest) or will they go for the one that can best improve their research? I don't know the answer but perhaps it's something to think about.

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  • thank you. I was on similar lines that speaking truth is actually lying in this case. But your answer helped me to look at it from a different perspective. – oh_dear_i_love_coding Mar 9 '16 at 4:27

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