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I am applying for grad school this year and I am considering sending an email to ask a professor to write me a reference. He had previously agreed to write me a letter because I took one of his advanced courses.

I am not sure if it'd be okay for me to offer to provide a template to him for the letter. The reason I want to do this is I will be applying for a PhD in a different, though quite related, field, and I want to make sure that he knows what the advisory committee will be specifically looking for in his letter, and make sure that his letter corresponds well with my statement of purpose.

Is this an acceptable practice between professors and students? Or would they consider it offending since he is supposed to provide his independent opinion? And if it is okay, how can I offer it in an appropriate way?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Personally, I would be somewhat offended if a student gave me a template for a letter, and I wouldn't use it. (Unless I had asked for one, which personally I would not.)

However, it is perfectly appropriate to say, "I believe that the committee will probably be interested in my ability to dangle participles and reticulate splines; it would help if your letter could address this." It is also fine to include a list or resume of your other activities that he may not be aware of, but leave it up to him how to use this list.

It's quite possible that your professor has written letters for students in this different field before and already knows what is expected. Also, for letters which are submitted online, the writer normally gets a message from the requesting institution explaining what issues should be addressed.

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Thank you Nate! I guess I should also include my SoP so he knows well what I intend to convey to the adcom. –  Vokram Nov 2 '12 at 13:11
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No and yes. I would talk to him and ask what he wants. If he wants a template, then you should provide one. If he wants a bulleted list, give him that. If he wants a draft letter, go with that. Giving him unsolicited information would be frowned upon.

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Thank you! I will ask him and see if he needs these things :) –  Vokram Nov 2 '12 at 13:12
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Was the template expressly provided by the advisory committee? In this case, you should of course forward it to your prospective references.

Otherwise, if it is just something you thought up, chances are that an experienced reference writer will do a better job by himself (he is probably more aware of what the committee is looking for in an applicant.)

This should not stop you from sending him all the relevant info: detailed CV, statement of purpose, transcripts etc.

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I will prefer to give template. For higher research oriented studies the reference letter must contain the related information, and each institution has its own taste, so to create more chances of getting admission you need to give the template to the one who is referencing.

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