My college demands a fee (equivalent to $10) from the students for every LOR that the student asks for. The fee goes to the college authorities and not to the professors themselves.

Is this a malpractice? I already wrote a complaint to principal/dean and he said that this is how it works.

What can I do about it, even my fellow classmates are exhausted paying so many fees since we are all applying to multiple colleges for admissions to future courses?

EDIT: I asked my dean based on the suggestion of the answer below (by Maarten Buis) and the reply stated that this is indeed an act to limit the applications that a student makes, so that the professors aren't burdened to write recommendations for students who apply to various institutions just for the sake of it/ a place where the said student would have no chance but still applies.

  • 11
    Which country is this in? Customs may vary.
    – henning
    May 13 at 8:20
  • 44
    A new low in academia...
    – Greg
    May 13 at 9:28
  • 4
    @mnuizhre of course. I'm just asking because it may help elicit useful answers. Regarding the image of your country, if it's just an outlier institution, there's no concern.
    – henning
    May 13 at 11:29
  • 4
    I wonder if it is just a hold over from the time in which staff people (secretaries) had to get involved in preparing such letters and getting them out. Or perhaps that is still the custom. I paid one of the staff to type my math thesis in the days before personal computers.
    – Buffy
    May 13 at 11:53
  • 8
    Imho it's particularly ridiculous that the price is for every letter, since usually once a letter is written for a student the others are just copies of the same letter. So there's zero justification for asking a fee for every different college the students applies for, it's almost always the same letter. Additionally the time spent by the professor writing these should obviously be already factored in the college fees: what's next, they're going to ask a fee for every question asked by the student to the professor, every correction, every hour of supervision... ??
    – Erwan
    May 13 at 13:58

2 Answers 2


Malpractice has legal meaning that does not seem to apply here. So I will interpret your question as "is this wrong". After all, this is not the place to get legal advice.

Given the information you have given us, this seems to be a policy by the institution, and not one that professor invented themself, nor does that professor benefit from it. So the professor is not doing anything wrong. Professors are powerful, but even they have to bow to university policy.

There are possible justifications for such a fee. The time spent on writing such a letter is time that cannot be spent on other things, so there is a real cost the institution incurs for giving the student that service. However, given the small size of the fee, this sounds more to me like a policy to put up a small barrier to prevent overuse rather than a policy to get some money. Maybe, this was a reaction to too many students asking too many LORs. Maybe something like: lets ask all faculty members to write a LOR, and I will pick the two best ones. If many students do that, then the university needs to react, for example adding a small fee. I don't know if this applies to your university, but there are situations where such a fee may be justified.

That is the real answer I can give you: find out why they have that policy. It is hard to argue against a policy if you don't know why it is there. Maybe, they actually had a good reason, and you don't want to argue against it anymore. That would also be a good outcome.

  • 6
    $10 could be a less insignificant value in another country. May 13 at 13:54
  • 5
    Re "Professors are powerful, but even they have to bow to university policy": I bet you they can write a LOR for free as a favor. Now that may be a "malpractice" like any other favorable treatment of specific students, depending on the circumstances. May 13 at 17:28
  • 8
    -1 for "there are situations where such a fee may be justified". This is totally unacceptable money-grabbing behaviour from any university under any and all circumstances. A failure of their basic duty to their students. May 13 at 18:23
  • 14
    @JackAidley I don't think it is money-grabbing behaviour; it probably costs the university more to collect those fees (the prof has to collect it hand it to a secretary who needs to add it to an account, which needs to be checked, ...). I believe the edit by the OP that this is policy is designed to influence the student's behaviour. You can argue whether the policy is effective, whether the costs to the students outweight the benefits to the institution, whether the problem it is supposed to solve even exists. In all likelihood we would agree. ... May 13 at 19:53
  • 14
    ... However treating universities like moneygrabbing supervillains is not helpful and most of the time not true. A policy has a goal. Once you know the goal, you can start a meaningful discussion with the university. Treating it as the enemy will get you nowhere. Whenever dealing with a university keep Hanlon's razor in mind: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity May 13 at 19:53

The policy at face seems perfectly reasonable to prevent some Tragedy of the Commons, though in modern times, professors have been largely free to write or reject per-student (ie. why would they write a letter for a student who they are sure does not understand a subject to work with their peers? or why would they not write a letter for a promising student who added to their class? - surely they must be free to write or not write for either case if asked!)

However, without strong controls I believe this leads to some trouble-
The monetary fee is insignificant in comparison to the cost of attendance, but the process provides a novel way for the university to directly track some details of the process surrounding letters of recommendation.

Simply the knowledge that different counts of LOR are sent by professors could affect them personally (are they sending enough? too many?) or worse, financial information and speculative success information about students involved is no business of the university. (ie. is 15 letters too many? cheaper than a US physics text!)

Conversely (perhaps?), whether the payment is accepted shows information to a student whether a professor did write a LOR, while this information may not otherwise be known. (is this desirable? it's a break from the norm, but perhaps not a bad one)

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