I'm currently preparing my application for a graduate program and have the opportunity to include a recommendation letter from a professor who is part of the faculty at the university I'm applying to.

I am curious about how much weight such a letter carries in the admissions process. Does a recommendation from an insider significantly strengthen my application?

  • 1
    Have you worked with the professor, or does she know you well academically? As you see from the answers, this will essentially determine whether the letter helps or not.
    – Legendre17
    Jan 8 at 15:18
  • Yes, I have. She knows me perfectly. @Legendre17 Jan 8 at 16:21
  • Just wondering if professor is still there. If yes, it would help. If no, research little bit why professor isn’t there anymore. Jan 9 at 0:59

5 Answers 5


It might increase your chances, but assume that it won't. The writer would, perhaps, ethically need to otherwise stand aside in decisions. And such a letter isn't going to be determinative in itself. You still need to compete with many other candidates.

But, rather, assume that the letter has weight proportional to what they say. If they know you well and can confidently and honestly predict your success then it is a good letter - like any other.

The risk is that you are seen as gaming the system. If you would ask them for a letter independent of where they are employed then it seems fine. But get the best letters from people who know you.

There are places, of course, where informal contacts have a lot of weight. Such things can, possibly, outweigh merit.


I get asked periodically for such letters particularly from middle eastern students applying to our department. I understand there are cultural differences and certain processes may appear to be the right thing in other parts of the world. Getting meaningless letters of reference to game the system doesn't really help. Unless that faculty is saying "I need this person in my lab or I have to give back this (three letter agency) grant because they are the only ones who can do it", it won't make a meaningful difference. From my time spent on admissions committees, the letters from people who have clearly had genuine interaction with the student have the most value and can end up swaying a decision.

What are you hoping for "I have read student X's CV and application and I think they are going to be suitable for our department". The admissions committee can determine that as well. The letters should provide more insight.

Unless the letter writer has some genuine interaction with you professionally, please do not engage in this process to try and game admissions. It is very easy to see through.

This is from my perspective in the US. The way we always did admissions in my department was really fair, and very holistic. Can't say what it's like elsewhere.

  • 17
    Hi. This answer appears to assume that the professor who would write the recommendation letter doesn't know the OP and that the recommendation letter itself is "meaningless". This seems like an unfair assumption. That's not what I understand when I read the OP's question. Personally I have never met a professor who would write a recommendation letter for a student with whom they have no experience (either as a student or intern or TA or w/ever), so if a professor did write a recommendation letter for the OP, I would assume that they know the OP and are not lying in their recommendation letter.
    – Stef
    Jan 7 at 17:29
  • @Stef .. you might consider deleting your comments and revising the same material as an answer. Jan 7 at 22:57
  • 8
    @CrimsonDark Why should Stef delete the comment? It is a valid criticism of this answer, regardless of what other answers may exist.
    – nanoman
    Jan 8 at 1:30
  • I was only suggesting that instead of a mere comment, he could post it as a more substantial answer and, if he wished thereby gain reputation. I'm not disparaging the comment at all! Quite the opposite. Jan 8 at 6:57

Both of the other answers seem to be making certain assumptions about you and the programs you are applying for. The effect largely depends on your relationship with the potential letter writer, what sort of program you are applying to, the individual institution and their policies, and the professor in question.

First, if the letter is a garbage letter (ie: not from a professor that knows you well), then it will not help you regardless of what I say below. It needs to be a professor you have a real professional relationship with. Similarly, it will generally need to be from a professor that is in your area. Recommendations from a professor from a different department probably won't have much weight.

If you are applying to a masters program, law school, or to medical school the answer is "probably not particularly." Usually these programs' admissions are handled by admissions staff, who are far removed from caring about the professor in particular, and will usually be following strict formalized rules, with maybe a little leeway in how they score your application. The institution could have a system that recognizes internal recommendations and gives them a slight preference, but maybe not. It will vary from institution to institution.

If you are applying to a PhD program, then it depends on the individual institution, and the professor's relationship with the department. Most universities will not have the decisions made primarily by staff, beyond perhaps some pruning to the "good" candidates. So, at some point, if your submission is good enough, it will eventually go to the hands of PhD students and/or professors. At this point, if the letter is actually a good one that can vouch for your research potential, and said professor is respected at the institution and is both known and not disliked by the person reviewing it, there is usually a pretty high likelihood of acceptance, barring anything particularly strange. In the event that the committee doesn't accept the application, some universities allow professors to also individually go and request admittance for individual students. And even if there is no official policy, a professor throwing a hissy fit could probably get it to happen. So, if this professor really wants you as a PhD student, then for most institutions they could probably get this to happen.

So in short, if its not a "real" letter, then no. If its not a PhD program, probably not, but maybe a slight benefit. If you are applying to a PhD program, and the professor is in your field, and again, its a real research-related letter, then so long as the professor isn't a pariah at the institution or something, it is probably the single best single thing you could have in your application.


Recommendation from an insider can be advantageous, particularly in PhD programs. The authenticity of the letter, along with your overall profile, will ultimately determine its impact on your application...

The significance of a recommendation letter from a faculty member at the university you're applying to can indeed vary based on several factors. Firstly, it's important to emphasize that the strength of any recommendation letter primarily hinges on the depth of your relationship with the recommender. Since you've confirmed that the professor knows you well, we can assume that their letter will offer meaningful insights into your academic abilities and potential.

In the context of graduate admissions, especially for PhD programs, such letters can carry considerable weight. Admissions committees often value insights from their colleagues, as these recommendations can provide a unique perspective on an applicant's fit for the program and the institution. However, this is not to say that the letter will be the sole deciding factor. Your overall application, including your academic record, research experience, and other recommendation letters, will still play a crucial role in the evaluation process.

Regarding the concerns raised about gaming the system, it's crucial to approach this ethically. If your interaction with the professor was genuine and their letter will sincerely vouch for your qualifications and potential, then it's a legitimate component of your application. It’s important to maintain transparency and ensure that the recommendation is a true reflection of your academic relationship with the professor.


If the professor you're thinking of, who works in the department you're applying to, knows you well academically, beyond what can be seen in your CV (e.g., they've worked with you before), then having a letter from them is likely going to help a lot.

It's not so much the place where they work that matters, but the fact that they are known by the hiring committee.

You see, one of the biggest difficulties when reviewing applications is finding a way to compare credentials from very different places. People just write differently. Some people will be very effusive in their praise and make everyone sound like superstars; others will be more restrained and factual. To some extent, this can be a cultural issue: recommendations from the US, for instance, are more likely to be written in superlative terms, and mentioning a weakness is tantamount to yelling "DO NOT HIRE THIS PERSON". (Exaggerating a bit, but not a lot.)

The one thing that really helps when trying to gauge how good a recommendation letter really is is knowing the person who wrote it. That's why a letter from someone at the institution you're applying to can be so useful.

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