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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    "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. Oct 9, 2014 at 18:18

3 Answers 3


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...

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    +1 for those three cases of students when writing recommendations.
    – enthu
    Oct 10, 2014 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: https://facultyweb.kennesaw.edu/rbrow211/help/recommendations.php

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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, 2014 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, 2014 at 12:58
  • As a student, I'm interested in knowing what exactly professores might expect as "material". Is it course grades? Bachelor thesis? Oct 15, 2014 at 20:47
  • @MarkFantini: Have a look at the link in my answer to the question.
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 16, 2014 at 2:17

I am a professor. It's part of our job. I generally only write one letter per student, and send that letter to all of the programs they have applied to. The exception is if they are applying to different programs (e.g. some neuroscience and some cognitive science) I would tailor the letter for the program. It is work. Just like teaching, reviewing papers, writing grants, mentoring, etc. If I like the student, I will enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for that student.

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