Just curious about how professors feel about having to write recommendation letters? Is it a chore for them? Or do they actually enjoy writing them? Or is it more of neutral.

I am in a situation of applying to various graduate schools. Last year I only applied to one school and was rejected. This year I am thinking of applying to more schools so as to increase the chance of being accepted. I feel a bit "guilty" about having to ask my supervisor to write 5 separate letter of recommendations. Would it take up too much of their time?

That said, I don't really have any other choice since the recommendation letters are pretty much compulsory.

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    I find writing the first letter for a person a chore, although for many students it is a chore I enjoy. Subsequent letters tend to be pretty trivial to write as I tend to customize my letters based on the individual, I tend to not customize it much for the individual job/school. – StrongBad Oct 9 '14 at 18:14
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    "his year I am thinking of applying to more schools so as to increase the chance of being accepted. I feel a bit "guilty" about having to ask my supervisor to write 5 separate letter of recommendations." Do you specifically know that your supervisor is writing five separate letters? In my experience, one letter serves for all graduate applications, perhaps with the most minor adjustments if one is applying for some external fellowship. – Pete L. Clark Oct 9 '14 at 18:18
  • It is definitely a chore that you feel you have to do well because it is important to the person requesting it :-) – chris Oct 9 '14 at 19:07

Although I'm not a professor, my position has a lot of similarity and I have often been asked to write recommendation letters. My reaction has been a mixture, depending on who is asking for me to write the letter:

  • Students who I like and respect: "Sure, I'll be happy to. What are the aspects of your work that you'd most like to have emphasized?"
  • Students who I haven't got a strong opinion on: "I'm not sure that I know your work well enough to write a strong letter. If you really need me to, I can, but I think you'd be better served by getting somebody who knows you better."
  • Students who I have been disappointed in: "I'm sorry, but I don't think that I would be a good person to write the type of letter that you need."

You only want letters from the first type, who will happily sing your praises. And for a student like that, it's no burden at all: I'm going to want to push your career forward, because I'm hoping I'll get to see somebody who I like prosper, and maybe even return to work with me as a colleague in the future.

As for the multiple letters question: don't worry about it unless you're applying to like 20 schools. If the programs you're applying to are similar, they're probably just going to be writing just one template letter about their experiences and filling in a couple of blanks to customize for the institution. Now certain institutions have terrible forms that will make it a pain to send that letter, but that's hardly your fault, and your recommender will be used to it...

  • +1 for those three cases of students when writing recommendations. – enthu Oct 10 '14 at 8:58

Writing recommendations is a lot of work, but I take pleasure in doing it. To control the work, I decline recommendations from students who earned grades of less than B in any of my classes. When I get a second request from the same student, I tell them my limit is four letters. I also ask for material from the student that eases the workload a bit.

Here is what I tell my students: http://bbrown.spsu.edu/recommendations/index.html

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    I do something similar but I find what students come back with (when I have asked them for material to help me write a better letter for them) is often quite weak. Of course, this also impacts the quality of the letter they receive from me (since I realize I might have seen them as brighter than they really are). – earthling Oct 10 '14 at 11:27
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    Correct. You learn something about the student when you ask for material to support the recommendation letter. Often I get nothing, hence I don't have t write a letter. The best students bring a well-organized packet, then stop by a few days later to ask whether I need anything else. – Bob Brown Oct 10 '14 at 12:58
  • As a student, I'm interested in knowing what exactly professores might expect as "material". Is it course grades? Bachelor thesis? – Mark Fantini Oct 15 '14 at 20:47
  • @MarkFantini: Have a look at the link in my answer to the question. – Bob Brown Oct 16 '14 at 2:17

I don't think you should ask them to write a recommendation letter from scratch. This really helped me understand why. https://www.facebook.com/notes/diane-garnick/dont-ask-for-a-recommendation-offer-a-draft/10152715120029454

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    I didn't downvote, but I've never had a student offer me a draft, nor would I expect them to. – Jim Conant Oct 10 '14 at 1:10
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    Rule of thumb: someone who cannot correctly spell "recommend" in their username is not someone whose advice on recommendation letters you should follow. – Pete L. Clark May 26 '15 at 6:13
  • @PeteL.Clark: a thumb for your rule – Ooker Nov 11 '15 at 10:56

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