I am writing some thank you's for interviews I had recently. How big of a deal is it if I write UCLA instead of University of California at Los Angeles, for example? I have always spelled things out in cover letters and CVs and stuff, but especially at this point, it just seems like I should just be able to write UCLA. Would anyone not think kindly of this?

Some school names are short/you should always write out like University of Michigan instead of Michigan, or University of South Carolina instead of USC, but when there's no ambiguity like UCLA, it seems silly to write that out every time.

Thanks for the help!

P.s. these are for math positions if that matters.

  • 4
    If you are writing a thank you for an interview at UCLA, then you can write UCLA. Similarly for USC or Michigan. (Just don't send the letter to the wrong one...)
    – GEdgar
    Jan 11, 2016 at 18:39
  • 2
    UCLA is an extreme example, as the abbreviated form has such widespread recognition that they have actually opened UCLA-branded stores in multiple foreign countries selling UCLA-branded merchandise. You can probably get away with saying UCLA in almost any context.
    – BrenBarn
    Jan 12, 2016 at 7:49

4 Answers 4


I can't imagine that anyone would object, as long as the abbreviation is widely used by people who work at the university. (UCLA is fine, but I wouldn't call it UC Los Angeles, since I believe that's a much less common abbreviation.)

In fact, repeatedly writing out "University of California, Los Angeles" is more likely to stand out as strange than using the abbreviation UCLA is.

  • 14
    And make sure that your abbreviations make sense. (Writing to someone in California and using "USC" to represent the University of South Carolina may lead to substantial confusion.)
    – aeismail
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:36

I would suggest following usual rules for using abbreviations. Spell it out on first reference and use the abbreviation on subsequent references.

Obviously if you're addressing a UCLA faculty member you probably don't have to spell out University of California, Los Angeles, but I'd spell out pretty much anything else, you don't know what school they'll think of when you say UM. To me, that's University of Montana but I sincerely doubt that's many other people's first thought.


If you use a widely used, well-recognised abbreviation, it shouldn't be a problem, unless in any extremely formal setting (like some legal paperwork). Use e.g. the abbreviation on their web page.

Use of abbreviations for other institutions would be a bit iffy, particularly if not well known or even potentially ambiguous (e.g. USM could be Universidad Santa María in Chile, or University of Southern Missouri, or perhaps even others).


There are very few universities that are universally known by an abbreviation. MIT is one of them. Caltech is arguably another, but I find blank faces on the East Coast of the US when I mention the name, so there is an issue of recognition there to begin with.

USC is another that is ambiguous. It's easy to assume if you are from the West Coast that "clearly" this is the University of Southern California, but New Yorkers may or may not recognize this.

New Yorkers tend to think NYU is one of the great institutions in the world, but I find most people on the West Coast aren't familiar with it and default to thinking "NYU" means the state university for New York.

Some are suggesting it's weird to spell things out, but I've seen enough resumes to recognize that people spell out all kinds of things and as long as it's clear what is meant, there is generally more to worry about in a resume than that.

So what about your example, UCLA? I've met very well-educated people from abroad that didn't actually know what it was. It's true the brand is very strong (especially in Asia), but it definitely does not have the recognition of MIT. In this case, you might want to put "University of California, Los Angeles" but you run the risk of some people not recognizing this is the same as UCLA (I've seen this happen with people from Asia). This example shows it's important to recognize your audience.

In summary, whether to use an abbreviation depends heavily on audience. Lean towards not using an abbreviation if you are unsure, and keep in mind very few institutions are known universally to begin with and known by their abbreviation.

  • Yeah I know some people don't know what you're talking about, so you do have to know your audience. I was particularly talking about people who are faculty at a certain school. Like if someone at MIT would take offense to me calling it MIT rather than Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I think the consensus is that no, that doesn't matter.
    – user46348
    Jan 14, 2016 at 18:21

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