Letters of Recommendation
When applying to university in Britain, one has to prove that one is reasonably proficient in the English langauge. This is understandable, of course, but it still feels like a waste to cough up 2100 for the test. I have, after all, used mainly English textbooks for the last six years, several of my subjects have been lectured in English and I regularly speak English with foreigners here at NTNU. I have also had an oral exam in English, because the teacher didn't speak Norwegian, and I am actually writing my Master's thesis in English. I will go so far as to claim that if you are able to finish a Master's degree in physics in Norway, then your English will not be a hindrance for further studies abroad. And the same proably goes for a lot of other subjects.
However, language testing is not the only stupid thing you have to do in order to apply to British or American universities. You also have to secure two artifacts from the feudal times, The Letters of Recommendation.
A Letter of Recommendation is quite simply a letter from some member of the academic staff at your university, where they state that they know you personally, and wether or not they belive that you will be able to obtain the degree you are applying for. Personally, I see two problems with this procedure. The first is that such a letter is not standardised or anonymus, and dependent upon a host of factors, such as the referee's personal opinion of you and their idea of what such a letter should say.
Another problem is that unless you have some dirt on someone, you have to know them personally to recieve such a letter. For a master student with reasonable social skills, it should be unproblematic to obtain at least one such letter from your supervisor, but most universities asks for two letters. Oxford of course insists on being wierd in defficult in this, as indeed in all things, and demands three. Still, as a master student you have probably attended some classes with rather few students, and have thus been able to get to know the teacher a little bit.
For a bachelor student, the problem is much worse. At least in Norway, it is perfectly possible to be a brilliant student, and obtain a Bachelor's degree with straight A's, without ever exchangig two words with a professor. Still, it is probably possible to get to know a teacher, at least those who are not to busy and irritable, by showing up at their office and asking questions about a subject they teach. However, a persons ability to appear intelligent while pestering someone with questions seems like an arbitrary thing to look at when considering their application.
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