I am now looking for a new Ph.D. position and as usually I need to provide the contact of the people to recommend me. Most of the time I need to write the letter myself and send it to the person so they can email it back to the university I am applying. As I asked my peers, this is quite a common practice. Now the question is: If everybody knows how the recommendation letters are written, how important are these letters for the admission decision?

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    What country are you in, and in what country is the university where you are applying? Recommendation letter practices vary widely around the world. Apr 7, 2016 at 12:55

1 Answer 1


Because I do not think it is that common! I agree some professors (especially if they overseas or know you in person) will let you write your own letter, they will read it, sign it and send it. Others will use your document as a draft only. But, the majority do not do that since it is very questionable and unethical!

Most professors write their own letters. Hence, recommendation letters are still important. Especially in cases where they can express if a student is exceptionally good, or to discuss his contribution in writing papers/proposals or even to discuss why did s/he perform poorly in undergraduate level courses (like me!).

  • It's probably unethical to take a self-written letter, put it directly onto your own letterhead, sign it, and send it, but I see no harm in asking a student for some salient points that occurred during your relationship that they'd like you mention in your letter. This could come in the form of a bulleted list or as draft prose. You should rewrite this into your own words, but there's no ethical issue in asking for a reminder of some details to go into the letter.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 7, 2016 at 14:12
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    @BillBarth: To me, the difference between having the student write the letter vs. writing the text based on a draft of the letter seems comparable to copying an exam answer verbatim vs. rewording it so the copying isn't as obvious. Personally, in the case of letter writing, I find both practices ethical (provided that the student-written letter only gets signed if the professor agrees with its contents), and based upon other questions on this site I figure customs related to the two practices are culturally dependant. What I find hard to understand, however, is how one of the practices can ... Apr 7, 2016 at 16:14
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    ... be ok while the other isn't. Apr 7, 2016 at 16:15

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