I run a summer research program that brings in undergrads to do ten weeks of research in our department. This can be a lot of work, particularly at this time of year when we have to sort through applications, make offers, organize travel and accommodations etc. etc. But generally the reward of watching a bunch of kids figure out what research is about makes it worthwhile.
This is also a lot of work for the faculty writing letters of reference for the applicants. We ask for two with each application. Many of them read the same - "Johnny is in my mega-sized class and did quite well (top 27.5163%), yadda, yadda, yadda." Others provide real insight and are very useful for identifying potential participants (we don't go solely by GPA). So from my perspective it's worth getting these letters. But...
I've been running this program for five years now and every year I'm utterly gobsmacked by the number of letters we get for undergrads who end up not applying. That is, we get the letters of reference, but no accompanying application. I'm not talking one or two here - those applications could easily be written off as lost in the mail. We're talking between eight in the first year of the program increasing to fifteen this year (roughly 10% of all applicants each year). What the...?!?!?!?!? If I were writing letters for someone, and found out they didn't apply for positions I had sent letters to, I would be furious. Writing decent letters of reference can be a lot of work. Yes, once the first is written, it's relatively easy to alter it for subsequent positions, but done properly it's still a non-trivial amount of work. And some of the faculty writing these letters are writing them for many students.
Each year I've toyed with the idea of contacting the relevant faculty and pointing out we never received an application. But in the end I don't. Should I? Is it really worth the effort?