In the December 2014 AMS Notices, a letter to the editor (http://www.ams.org/notices/201411/rnoti-p1311.pdf) by Deconinck and Medlock addresses the problem of (math) graduate programs requiring letter writers to fill out questionnaires about applicants or do other tasks besides uploading a recommendation letter, unlike the quick process for job applications on Mathjobs where all a letter writer has to do is upload a letter (once). Deconinck and Medlock suggest that letter writers to graduate programs append a postscript to their recommendation letters urging faculty who read the letter to check how their own graduate program handles applications and get the process streamlined if it has any requirements like the despised questionnaires.

Many faculty may not know what their own school makes letter writers do (esp. if they have not served on the graduate admissions committee). In that spirit, I propose that we collect here on MO a list of schools that make letter writers fill out questionnaires, as a kind of public service to encourage any faculty who see their own school listed here to go to their graduate school administration and insist that the math graduate program applicants -- if not all graduate school applicants -- avoid having any kind of survey as part of the application that letter writers have to fill out. If, in the future, a graduate program kills off the required questionnaire, the answer listing that school could be updated to make clear its passage from the dark side to the light side, so to speak.

Of course the admission websites are designed for an entire graduate school, not just a math department, but math faculty could still tell their graduate school that they make no use of questionnaires, percentage rankings, etc. from the online form, so it is a waste of time and therefore they do not want to make letter writers for the math graduate program see any of that stuff.

If you are writing graduate program recommendation letters this year and think this question is worthwhile, please keep a record of which graduate programs make you fill out questionnaires or do anything else besides upload a letter so that you can come back here and make a record of it if nobody else has yet.

Post one school per answer, ideally with the school name first for ease of scanning, and describe what letter writers are asked to do besides upload a letter.

(There are also some praise-worthy graduate programs where the letter writer has to do essentially nothing besides upload a letter, e.g., UIC and Wisconsin have no questionnaire, and Univ. Southern California only posts a questionnaire at the very end and makes it clear that filling it is not a requirement. Perhaps there should be a separate MO community wiki list for those schools.)

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    $\begingroup$ I applaud the intent behind the post; I decry its current location. Please submit to academia.stackexchange and add a link here to it. Of course, if the community decides otherwise... . Gerhard "For Keeping MathOverflow Primarily Mathematical" Paseman, 2014.12.16 $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Dec 17 '14 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ Why is academia.stackexchange a better location? Having it on MO is much more likely to bring it to a wider reading by the intended target audience. I'd also like this to be a CW question, although I don't know how to make it one. $\endgroup$ – KConrad Dec 17 '14 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ How about the absurdity of these websites asking one to fill in contact information when tautologically one wouldn't be filling out stuff on the darn website in the first place if they didn't have an accurate email address! Who designs these forms?!? $\endgroup$ – user74230 Dec 17 '14 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ @KConrad Are you referring to questions such as "what is the candidates potential to be a leader" and vague stuff like that, or do you also mean questions such as "rank in class" and check boxes with "top 1%, top 5%, ..."? Both types are annoying, and generally useless except maybe for initial screening at schools that get many hundreds of applications. OTOH, my experience is that almost all math grad programs pose such questions to letter writers, so you may get a more useful (and shorter) list if you ask for those schools that don't! $\endgroup$ – Joe Silverman Dec 17 '14 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @KConrad the academia site is built for questions and answers with issues just like this. The only reason to specialize it to math and post it here is that much of the audience you want is here (and I pretend that you want to shirk or otherwise avoid other academic disciplines). That's why I recommend a link, not deletion. The topic is otherwise not mathematical and I would not like to see many of these kinds of questions on this forum. Of course, it is not for me to decide, but the community to accept/reject. Gerhard "Don't Make It A Habit" Paseman, 2014.12.17 $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Dec 17 '14 at 19:21

Georgia Tech

It asks letter writers to fill out a questionnaire about the applicant, including asking how the applicant works as part of a team.


Ohio State

It asks letter writers to fill out a questionnaire about the applicant and also asks if the letter writer knows the applicant well enough to write a recommendation. Excuse me?


University of Minnesota

Not bad -- I was Driven to Discover (SM) that I have to create a password just for using the system that one time. But was able to bypass the survey completely.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but in a year or two when you have to use UM's system again, will they force you to remember your password (or force you to request a new one be sent to your email address)! $\endgroup$ – Joe Silverman Dec 17 '14 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ Minnesota also has a spot where letter writers are asked to fill in their URL. I filled it in with something along the lines of "Are you serious? Use Google." $\endgroup$ – KConrad Dec 17 '14 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ I have to apologize for Univ of MN's shenanigans. These are not generated by the math dept at all, but by a central bureaucratic unit... The application set-up is somehow aimed to be one-size-fits-all for nearly all graduate programs. I've complained, etc., many times over the years, but Central Administration's belief is that academic depts needs lots of oversight and control, or we'd admit just anyone, and grant degrees willy-nilly. Again, my apologies... $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Dec 17 '14 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ @paulgarrett: Point out to them that programs like UIC and Wisconsin don't make letter writers do any of that stuff, so it's not exactly intrinsic in the nature of graduate admissions that such things must be asked. $\endgroup$ – KConrad Dec 17 '14 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @KConrad, indeed, but/and this centralized "management" of grad admissions is some peoples' full time job, and once it's all in place and they're hired for that job, it's hard to eliminate. Further, some of the computer-not-literate academic departments seem to positively like this central "management", so there is by-far insufficient unanimity to eliminate this fake central unit and its constructs (and senseless burdens on people). Sure, if a Vice President were inspired to do this, it'd be one thing, but for mere working faculty to suggest changes... don't get me started. :) $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Dec 17 '14 at 18:19

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