I am an undergraduate student at a Chinese university. Recently I asked for recommendation letters from two professors at my university, one Chinese and the other American, in order to apply for a summer program at a US institution. I have taken courses from both of these professors and performed quite well.

Upon hearing my request, the Chinese professor asked me to first write the recommendation letter for myself and then send it to him so that he can modify and sign it. The foreign professor, on the other hand, wrote the whole letter all by himself. I was later told by my classmates that it is the "common practice" for many professors in China to ask the student to write the recommendation letter for himself and then sign it.

Now my questions are: (1) Is the same thing a "common practice" in western universities? (2) Is it ethical for professors to transfer the load of writing the recommendation letters to students themselves? (3) I feel extremely uneasy when trying to write something that is supposed to praise myself. Is there any method for overcoming this uneasiness?

I would sincerely appreciate any help in answering my questions. Thanks!

  • 2
    (1) It's not common practice, but it does happen. (2) Absolutely not. (3) Sure: Don't do it.
    – JeffE
    May 20 '16 at 16:23
  • My own experience as an undergraduate and PhD student in "the west" was that professors wrote letters and students did not see them. Subsequently, as a supervisor of students who came from different systems, I would sometimes be asked to sign letters that people had written, or to send students letters of recommendation that they could use. My suggestion would be that you explain to the Chinese professor that the program you're applying to requires something different; you could send him certain factual details about your grades, without "praising yourself"
    – Yemon Choi
    May 20 '16 at 16:26
  • 1
    @YemonChoi, when i was going to grad school in the early 80's, the school i was applying to (Northwestern) had a form for recommendation letters and there was this "release" or something that i could sign that indicated that i agreed to give up my "right" to review this particular information in my file. i dunno how tight the legality of this was (i.e. could the professor feel secure that i would never get to read it?). once, at the new school, i needed to review stuff in my file (for something else) and i came upon this letter i was never s'pose to see. May 20 '16 at 16:41
  • 1
    @WeckarE. No, I didn't miss it. OP specifically asks about applying to a summer program at a US institution and about common practice at western universities. My answer reflects that cultural perspective.
    – JeffE
    Nov 14 '16 at 16:47