Dear Candidate,

Thank you very much for your 2012 [...] application. [We] were very impressed by your application. However, this season was particularly competitive. Unfortunately, I am unable to offer you [...]."

We have all (I assume) received something like the letter above, which is a copy of a rejection letter that I received two weeks ago.

I don't intend to complain about receiving such letters—such is the nature of applying to competitive schools or competitive jobs.

What I do want to critique, however, is the manner in which such letters are written.

I am by no means the first person to offer this assessment, but I believe that the authors of rejection letters—while usually well intentioned—attempt to defray responsibility for their decisions.

Let's take a look at the letter that I received.

They were "unable to offer" me the thing (let's call it X) for which I had applied?

Are they saying that it is impossible for them to have offered me X?

Then why was I even encouraged or invited to apply?

Of course, what the authors actually mean is that they have chosen not to offer me X.

They chose other candidates, and even though they perhaps wanted to interview and hire a larger number than they did, the firm ultimately chose the candidates that it perceived to be the strongest.

They were able to choose me—nobody was stopping them. But they chose not to.

This is how any selection process must work, of course, but what I object to is that they feel the need to ignore any responsibility for choosing other candidates instead of me.

All rejection letters should use the active voice, and take responsibility for not accepting the individual who applied.

"We are very sorry to inform you that we have not selected you" is simply more honest and sincere than "We regret to inform you that your application was not selected."

Rejection letters should be polite, express sympathy, but ultimately, their authors should take responsibility for their decision.

Since I and most other Bowdoin students will probably enter a career in which I will receive many letters rejecting me (and hopefully those precious few accepting me), I sincerely ask that those who consider me for whatever opportunity treat me with respect.

I cannot imagine how hard it must be to reject hundreds of excellent candidates. Selection processes are, well, selective, and as a result, many qualified candidates receive these passively unhelpful letters and find themselves in similar, frustratingly vague situations.

I understand that it's very likely that I will be rejected for many things I apply for.

All I ask is that whoever is responsible for that decision takes ownership of it, and uses active, clear language to tell me "I'm really sorry, but no."

Those making the application decisions owe it to their applicants to be honest and straightforward, rather than use diluted language in a rejection letter to deny responsibility for the decision.