Preferably from a professor's candid viewpoint. When writing graduate recommendations for an undergraduate, do professors write general recommendations describing why #insert name# is a great fit for graduate school or do they tailor each letter to the school. I know this can vary from professor to professor, but what is a common practice.

I ask because I will be applying to graduate schools (quite a few of them on my list currently) and just wondering how much extra work each school is for my professors.

  • Not a direct answer, but I'd give the profs a few keywords summarizing how you targeted your applications (mostly regarding your project and the schools) to make it easier for them to tailor their letters.
    – henning
    Feb 11, 2019 at 17:54

4 Answers 4


My own MO is to write 1 letter (per student) and send it to each school unmodified, unless the student tells me what I should stress (or un-stress) for particular places. Keep in mind that professors usually don't know the specific preferences and biases of math departments outside of their field and their personal travel experience; there are maybe 2 departments in the world I could tailor a letter for based entirely on my own knowledge. The onus is on the student here, who has ideally put out some feelers and gotten to know people she would want to collaborate with.


Professors often write just a single general letter about the student and send that everwhere.

Advantage: don't feel shy about applying as many places as you want.


It depends on the professor's familiarity with you and the school. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

My mentor, who I worked with for four years, spent much more time on my letters than I'd expect from anyone else, tailoring them to specific schools based on little blurbs I provided them with describing my interest.

My second letter-writer, who knew me less well, tailored their letters to the couple of programs he was personally familiar with, and presumably his alma mater, which I applied to.

My third letter-writer I don't believe did that much tailoring at all, as they knew me the least well and was also not in the field I was applying to.


Actually, I think the common practice is to be as supportive as they can be within the limits of time and honesty. But if you are the student you can help in this. If you are intending to apply to a large number of places, let the prof know this so s/he can write a general letter that can be sent out quickly. You might even suggest things that you would like stressed in such a letter.

But if the situation comes up that you are applying to a place that you are especially interested in and which may have special requirements, let the prof know that the general letter should maybe be spiced up a bit.

If the professor is somehow connected to a university or has worked with some faculty there s/he may tailor the letter in any case, knowing what they might find interesting in your background and/or potential.

Some professors ask students to write a first draft of a letter, or even the final draft.

If you are the professor, it might be useful to ask students what they think are their most important qualities and significant accomplishments as an aid in preparing any letter. It is also good to keep a general letter on file in case you are asked again in a year or so if the student's situation is changing.

  • 1
    If a student is applying to 5 similar graduate programs, I won't bother to tailor the letter to each one. However, if the student is applying to significantly different programs (e.g. an MS in Data Science vs. an MS in Statistics), then I do typically modify the letter slightly to discuss why the student would be a good fit for that kind of graduate program. Feb 11, 2019 at 18:13

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