So after all these crazy days of trying to finish my application and encouraging professors to finish the letters of recommendations (LORs) for me, there is the next thing - my professor sent the letter of recommendation (which he had to send just to the institution) also to me. I think he did it unknowingly, but now I am stressed again, because I should not know the content of the letter of course. I didn't open it, but this situation is quite crazy. If I can see that he sent it to two recipients, it stands to reason that the another recipient can see it too.

Uhh. Does someone know what should I do now?

EDIT: It was a letter related to the grant application

  • 13
    Assuming we're talking about email, are you sure he didn't send you a blind carbon copy? In that case the institution would not be able to see (at least from the email headers) that you have received a copy.
    – Pont
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 7:52
  • 48
    Are there any specific reasons (e.g. grant application rules) why you think that "I should not know the contain of the letter of course" ? It's rather common practice for people to know the contents of their letters of recommendation and even be actively involved in writing their contents.
    – Peteris
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 10:05
  • 6
    The secretary of that institution wrote me that. She literally wrote: "he (professor) can send the LOR on my email, but you definitely should not know the content of the letter"
    – Alyssa88
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 10:13
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    If you can see your address in the To: or CC: fields, it's not a blind carbon-copy.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 10:59
  • 8
    I have always provided a copy of LOR to the one I am recommending. Further, in your case, you should do nothing - if the grant agency is ticked off at somebody, it will be the professor. That is assuming that they gave them strict instructions about keeping it private from you. Most likely, they won't notice at all.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 14:08

5 Answers 5


I have, on many occasions, received references/letters of recommendation from academics with their student copied in.

Some do it as a matter of course for transparency so that students know what's being said about them or to confirm that they have actually done it (profs are notoriously bad at getting refs in on time!). And some do it in error.

In the cases I have experienced, this hasn't been an issue at all. What is at stake, at least immediately, is the quality of the reference, not whether or not the student knows its content.

Unless there are some very stringent rules in place at the receiving institution, I think that this is a non-issue.

It would also be worth bearing in mind that, depending upon your jurisdiction, the content of references (ie personal data) may actually be admissible upon request. See the University of Reading guidance on this in the UK. So references aren't necessarily private anyway.

The only real issue I can foresee is if the content of the reference isn't great and your place to be declined. Although this one is up to you how you respond.

In answer to your question, if you are really concerned, I would suggest you send your professor an email to thank them for the reference and casually/politely to ask whether it is normal practice to cc the student in to these kinds of letters. The prof will then hopefully give you their view.

I would advise against contacting the receiving institution as you might risk sounding a bit silly/panicky (sorry!).

  • 10
    I think, even with the various practises, letting things run their course is probably the best to not wake dogs you do not want to be awake. Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 7:37

Recommendation letters are typically part of your academic records, which you have access to, unless you specifically waive your right to review them. If your letter writer wished to keep the letter confidential, he would have requested you to do so.

It sounds as though he sent you a copy of the letter as a courtesy. You are free to read it or not as you wish.

In my experience, knowing the letter contents is much more common than not in the academic application process. I've both reviewed letters written for me as well as effectively written letters myself for the recommender to review and send. Only once have I had someone request confidentiality.

  • 1
    I should clarify - this pertains to the US educational system. Access rights may vary in other countries.
    – user58322
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 8:14
  • 10
    It may be worth noting that U.S. high school students are heavily encouraged by advisors, universities, and at least the Common Application to waive their FERPA rights, under the reasoning that not doing so raises a red flag about one's confidence and seriously hampers one's chances of acceptance. (I don't even know whether it's legal for universities to do so, but this is certainly the narrative.)
    – wchargin
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 12:31

I never write a reference for anyone without showing them a copy. I would never say something about the person to a third party that I was not prepared to tell them to their face.

  • Yes most of the times, thats the case. Professor ask the student to write briefly about achiements etc, then they make their changes additions and send it to the uni. Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 17:39

When I was applying for scholarship/grant there were some universities that needed me to provide email of referee OR to send them a sealed LOR by mail. But I think almost every one mentioned that the email/mail should be confidential. If that is the case then they may ask you to provide other referee rejecting this one. If they have not mentioned that it should be sealed or only to email then they can ignore it.

So mainly depends on the system followed.

  • 4
    Indeed, totally depends on the system. In some European countries, it would be stranger for the LoR-writer to not provide them to the student. My French PhD application required me to submit everything (including LoRs) in a giant PDF file. Whereas in the UK the LoR-writers had to upload them to the institution's website. Not sure about the US. Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 19:13

What you should do is delete the email you were sent without reading the letter, including deleting it from your deleted folder and all other copies that might have been made.

(Unlike, it seems, others here, in my experience there is a very strong expectation that you do not have access to your references.)

  • 6
    But the letter writer and the institute will have no way of knowing you have done so and will assume you have read the letter, won't they? Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 8:09
  • 2
    They might. It's still what should be done. And if anyone asks, the OP would honestly be able to say they did the right thing.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 8:50
  • 1
    @ShaneORourke Even beyond it being the right thing, I think it's a good idea just for peace of mind. I suspect no good will come of reading it, or even of knowing that you could read it if you wanted to (I'm admittedly projecting here - I know that I would just be made more anxious by this - but I suspect this is not unique to me). Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 16:48
  • Would the downvoters like to explain what is wrong with my answer? It is written in good English, and cannot be said to be harmful. I am very surprised that so many people think it is generally acceptable to see a reference, given I have rarely found situations where it is.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 19:57
  • I would wager a guess that the downvoters see your answer as not very relevant to to question, considering that the asker seems more concerned with negative implications to others than what is "right".
    – user58748
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 1:42

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