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Is sending a shared spreadsheet with the university names, deadlines, and a box to check when completed be something beneficial or appreciated by my recommenders? I thought maybe it would be nice for them to have all the info there and also get to see if they forgot about a particular application.

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  • 4
    At the least it shows you are on the ball with your applications.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 11 at 14:55
  • Better than sending it in a possibly proprietary Excel format, send it in an Open Document Spreadsheet format. Oct 12 at 0:32
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket The vast majority of academics are much more familiar with Excel or Google Sheets than ODF. Not everyone is a computer nerd. Oct 12 at 15:26
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Excel spreadsheets conform to ISO 29500 (iso.org/standard/71691.html). That's not very proprietary.
    – Flydog57
    Oct 12 at 18:20
  • @Flydog57 Do you happen to know if it's always been like that? I stopped using Excel years ago because people on various platforms reported challenges opening the files if they didn't have Excel. I recall incompatibility of files between different versions of Excel as well. IIRC, at some version, Excel started to offer the option of saving files in a more standard format, but IIRC (sorry for the IIRC again... it's been years) many versions don't offer that functionality. Oct 19 at 23:18
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This is exactly what I did when I applied to grad school. One of my recommenders asked me to create such a sheet, and I shared similar lists with the other recommenders, after checking if they would prefer to have them.

It is a good idea, but ask first, particularly if you want them to check a box after submitting each letter. It might otherwise look a bit presumptuous and as if you were telling them how to organize their work.

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I see no harm in asking, but since it's unlikely you are the only person they are writing letters for, they may already have their own system and decline to use yours (or forget).

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It's helpful to get a concise list of the schools a student is applying to and the dates, but putting it into the email request is enough for me. TBH, if the list of schools you're applying to is so long it takes a spreadsheet to keep track of all them, the spreadsheet isn't really a solution to the actual problem.

I'm always delighted to write the first couple of letters for a student because I'm always so happy they're going on to graduate school. I think that's a great choice for most students who did well as undergrads. Once I've written the first LOR for a former student, it's pretty quick to revise it for the next school. But once I've done 3 or 4 letters for the same student, the thrill definitely begins to wear off.

Possibly more helpful than the spreadsheet are the basics: copies of your transcript, CV or resume, any essays you expect to submit with your applications, and suggestions for anything you hope they might emphasize in their letter. Completely optional, a photo can also be helpful for reminding them who you are. (It's also helpful to plan ahead and cultivate future references by participating in class and hanging out in their office hours so they get to know you well enough they don't need to be reminded who you are.)

Also, here in the US, if your reference knows you as a student, pretty much everything they know about you is confidential under FERPA unless you explicitly grant them permission to discuss your academic career and performance.

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  • Please excuse my ignorance, but wouldn’t you have practically the same letter for all the universities? Or do you customize them for each one? Oct 11 at 21:57
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    Yes, but I try to make my LORs look like I put some thought and effort into them, which takes thought and effort. I do them on university letterhead with a formal inside address (which I probably have to Google) and references to the name of the program I need to change for each letter. Counting time to create the PDF and upload it, each additional letter probably takes me 15 mins or so. One time, I had a student I'd never met but had been in my section of an intro class with 1200 students who wanted a dozen LORs. He did well, so I wrote them but I thought that was a lot to ask. Oct 11 at 23:00
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    @NicoleHamilton Would it be possible to minimize the customization effort on your side by having the student collect the address and program information for you and put it into some, well, spreadsheet? ;-) Oct 12 at 6:37
  • @lighthousekeeper Yes, that would help. Oct 12 at 12:59
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    @lighthousekeeper But could also go in, say, a table...in the body of the e-mail. Oct 12 at 16:50
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Personally, if I were writing multiple recommendation letters for a student, I would find that extremely helpful. It also shows that you are systematic and well-organised, which is something I would note (to your benefit) in my recommendation.

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