While I know that students are encouraged to "tailor" their applications to the particular school or program they're applying to, does the same hold true for the people writing letters of recommendation on their behalf? In other words, is it possible just to change the "addressee" portion, and use a greeting such as "Dear Members of the Admissions Committee," or is more personalization required?

Just to clarify here, I'm referring to the "pro-forma" parts of the letter, rather than the actual content of the recommendation per se.

  • Since i'm student i'm not in a position to answer this question but I would say it depends to whom you are writing. Top schools usually need strong ( or even exceptional) letter of recommendations which require the Professors to alter their format accordingly. I had a situation applying to Oxford school and the rejection was mainly because of the not exceptional recommendations :)
    – seteropere
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 2:37
  • 1
    @seteropere: Thanks for the comment. Of course the content of the letter has to be good; I'm not actually quite so concerned with that portion in my question. I've revised it accordingly to make my intent clear: I'm worried about the "mechanics" (who's the addressee, what's the greeting, and so on).
    – aeismail
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 2:57
  • Depends entirely whether you know the people at the said place or not. If you do know the person, then you can tailor it and it is infinitely more helpful. If you don't know anyone in that department then the tailoring is meaningless. If a professor really really wants a particular student to do well, then he can call in and discuss the student's strengths with a committee member.
    – Naresh
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


I have two levels of customization. Firstly, if the letter is for an internship at a lab, or an application to grad school or a job, I tailor the qualities that I emphasize and link those qualities to the specific job.

A second level of customization is if I have any connection to the institution (for example, when writing letters of recommendation for AT&T Labs - where I used to work - I might mention this explicitly in order to convey that I understand the local culture)

This is above and beyond the usual pro-forma customizations for the addressee etc.


Although it really depends on the culture you are in and the culture you are applying, tailored recommendation letters are generally 'stronger'.

Especially in the USA it is recommended to put also the university/department/lab name in the recommendation letter instead of just stating that the student is very good. Even changing the addressee requires the author spend some extra time, which means you are valuable for the author of the letter.

Keep in mind that most of the recommendation letters are not really read. They are there to show whether you can get them. In this perspective, tailored letters mean you have stronger relations with 'worthy people'.

  • 2
    "Keep in mind that most of the recommendation letters are not really read" - [citation needed]
    – TCSGrad
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 19:16
  • 4
    Actually, I think @memin is correct, but perhaps not for the reason he is suggesting. Most recommendation letters are not read, because most applications for most positions are form clearly unsuitable candidates. One the other hand, recommendation letters for strong applicants are pored over with fine-toothed combs and microscopes.
    – JeffE
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 21:32
  • I agree with @JeffE. Graduate schools need to know something about applicants that they can't learn from test scores and transcripts: "Is this person capable of being successful in the research part of the program?" Test scores and transcripts only weed out the unqualified.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 12:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .