When I was applying for PhD I was considering Germany, UK, Austria and Switzerland in my search for a position. So far, I found that each university/region has their own policies in application submission process.

For instance, I found that most of the Swiss universities ask for a direct recommendation letter from the recommender and it is not acceptable to submit it as a general one and it is only acceptable if it's sent directly from the recommender's institute email to the target university. In contrast, in Germany where applying now at a higher ranking university than the Swiss one, professors, and universities are more flexible and accepts them as a general one, so no need to be specifically produced for the particular university.

I tried hard to find a place in Swiss universities, but I ended up rejected with no response from my previous professor as it considered time consuming for him, and I don't blame him since general recommendation letter is enough in other universities.

Do universities that ask for such a thing consider them self better than the others and will lead them to better candidates?

The question is, why such universities make it hard for the student who apply for PhD? Is a general recommendation letter (I have 4 letters from different professors) from your previous professors where they indicate positivity about the candidate enough for such a PhD application?

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    Also, could u please clarify what do you mean with "general ones"? You mean recommendation lettres that you submit on your application and are addressed to whom it may concern?
    – PsySp
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:34
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    @PsySp being a professor with a very busy schedule will not help. Filling up the forms to two/three different swiss universities and then send them will be frustrating. And yes , General one means as you indicated.
    – Krebto
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:36
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    I do not sympathize with it. I agree its tedious and borderline boring but if a prof. agreed to provide recommendation letter, that's it, there are no excuses. It's part of the duties.
    – PsySp
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:40
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    @PsySp: "But that's the job/duty/responsibility of an academic adviser."; "It's part of the duties." - there have been some other discussions related to this topic elsewhere on this site. It seems that the degree of obligation to write letters of recommendation varies considerably by culture, covering the full spectrum from "definitive duty" to "generous voluntary favour". Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 21:32
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    @PsySp: "This is not an unknown practice." - but it is not the only one, not generally the default one in all places, and thus not necessarily the implied one when originally asking for the favour. "promising and not delivering" - nowhere did I suggest that, so that is beside the point. On the contrary, I wrote: "I keep what I initially promised to do" Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


By forcing the letter to be sent directly from the institutional email of the Professor, the university makes sure it is a truthful recommendation and not a modified or faked one. Such practice of faking documents in unfortunately happening in any recruitment environment, not only academia. Even worse and common practice in academia, my own phd adviser asked me to write my own recommendation letters because he lacked time, and he just signed them. Such practice as described in your message partially prevent this.

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    "Such practice as described in your message partially prevent this": such practice surely don't prevent that". Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 19:44
  • At least you are sure of the identity of the senders, so for sure it prevents the case where people make up previous experiences
    – Biokick42
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:27

Its common to have writers write general letters (To Whom it May Concern) tailored for particular kinds of applications (i.e. PhD programs in the field of your major). Some programs, such a fellowship programs, involve funding for a very specific topic and want letters tailored for your participation in that particular program. When you're applying to PhD programs, the same letter usually suffices (I'm writing from experience as a US academic, so I could be wrong about the rest of the world). But the applicant is very rarely allowed to submit their own letter. The letter should come directly from your writer to ensure that the writer can write honestly. This is standard practice in the US, and its also my experience in the UK. To avoid asking your writer to submit dozens of letters, you can usually use a dossier service like interfolio to upload the letters. Sometimes it doesn't work, but then you're only asking your writer to manually submit a handful of letters.

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