I have strong suspicion that one of the professors regardless of the professional relationship we had was not very nice in the recommendation letter. This is after knowing him at a personal level and how perfectionist and judgmental he is of other people. But let's not get into why I chose him to write my recommendation letter, you can assume I had my reasons. I got into the master's program I wanted which is one of the top in the US.

But that was the only program I got into while other programs ranked much lower declined me. My grades were good and my record was good the two other recommendation letters were good for a fact, so that only leaves me to assume that this top college did not weigh in so heavily on his recommendation letter to make their decision.

But all this is speculative, my question and concern is, should I let him know that I got into the program I wanted regardless? I want to do this as a courtesy and a thank you message. My fear is that he might go as far as approach the committee and ask for my admission to be re-evaluated. Or bad-mouth me to colleagues in that university if he knows I am attending.

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    Do you know if the people behind the master's program you got into would be familiar with how perfectionist and judgmental this guy is? Maybe he knew they knew how to interpret his letter.
    – JollyJoker
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 8:55
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    RE: "But all this is speculative..." Be careful there; too much speculation may result in some egg on your face.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 19:26
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    I can just "assume" you had your reasons, but I'm going to continue to believe that they were silly reasons. If you have no new information about this professor than you did before, then you effectively asked somebody that [you think] would not support you to write what [you believed] would be a bad recommendation letter. Why on earth would you do that?! Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:52
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    @BoundaryImposition Yes, I agree, this makes absolutely no sense at all. First, OP selects a professor where he suspects that he will give him a bad recommendation. Illogical, reasons or not. Second, being rejected from lower-ranked institutions, but accepted at a much higher-ranked one, he still insists on his belief that the reference was bad. All with only vague circumstantial evidence. It looks as if fate had conspired to create the most absurd combination of OP/prof/committee rationales and event outcomes. As advice, I suggest, decide: either be courteous, or be "paranoid", but not both. Commented May 11, 2017 at 23:50
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    But let's not get into why I chose him to write my recommendation letter, you can assume I had my reasons. So let's not assume anything. You had your reasons, he spent time writing the letter. Thank him, because he did what you asked him to do, although he was not obliged to, not because what he might or might not have mentioned in the letter.
    – skymningen
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 11:00

9 Answers 9


Yes, you should thank and inform your letter writer, and no, you shouldn't worry about some bizarre and unrealistic "re-evaluation" of your admission.

Comments: It is very unlikely that your writer wrote a negative letter. In general, one only agrees to write a letter if one has something constructive or positive to say. Having read lots of letters, I'll note that even judgmental and perfectionist people put their criticisms in context, comparing to their general assessments of other students or researchers. (I.e. this person isn't perfect, but he/she is better than most others for the following reasons). These letters, in fact, are often the most compelling.

As a further comment, you're being very uncharitable in assuming bad intentions of someone who agreed to write a letter for you!

And a final comment: no university is going to care to "re-evaluate" their admission of you, even in the stunningly unlikely event that someone asks them to, except in cases of actual fraud, criminal issues, etc. Everyone involved has better things to be doing with their time.

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    In general, one only agrees to write a letter if one has something constructive or positive to say. This is true in general, but "in general" means people who don't have nasty personalities. The OP describes the recommender as having a nasty personality. When I first applied to grad school, one of my recommenders, a hardcore religious and political conservative, devoted almost the entire letter to a very negative description of my campus political activities. I only found this out by chance, after my applications had already gone out. I was rejected everywhere and had to wait a year.
    – user1482
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 18:46
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    @BenCrowell: Ugh, the worst. Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:53
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    @BenCrowell The OP's only supporting evidence that this professor might write a negative review is their "perfectionist and judgmental" character - the OP never said anything about nasty. Your situation, which I agree is completely ridiculous, is not the same as the one the OP is referring to.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 21:25
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    @BenCrowell I'm really very sorry you experienced such mistreatment. Should've quoted Luke 6:27-38 to him.
    – jpmc26
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 9:49
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    @jpmc26 I had to look it up. I am particularly partial to 37-38: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
    – Peter K.
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 15:35

The fears you describe go way beyond your characterization of this person as perfectionist/judgmental into extreme pettiness. To go to those lengths would be to put a lot of effort into sabotage. If I were the committee/professors at your new institution on the receiving end of comments like those, especially from someone who I knew previously wrote a recommendation letter for the student, I would lose respect for that professor and their opinions, not for the student, and I would wonder why they are spending so much effort to bad-mouth a student at my own institution.

I think you have little to lose by a polite thank you and informing that you will be attending University X, unless you have other reasons beyond this professor's perfectionist/judgmental tendencies. You probably won't need their recommendation in the future, so no need to worry about that.



If he wrote you a good or even half-hearted recommendation, a sincere thank-you is common courtesy, and will cement his good opinion of you (it's even possible he wrote you a glowing recommendation -- your biggest boosters sometimes come from surprising places).

If he wrote a neutral or bad recommendation, he's more likely to remember your graceful response and think better of you (and it's still basic courtesy).

If he despises you, wrote you a strongly negative recommendation, and you got the job anyway, a polite and sincere thank-you will be the most galling retort you can send.

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    That last paragraph was exactly what I was thinking :) Commented May 12, 2017 at 3:43
  • @EricStucky strange seeing you here. I agree as well.
    – user64742
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 3:55

I would let him know I got into the program and thank him for the recommendation. You are now officially admitted into the program and there is nothing he can about it.

Assuming he wrote a good recommendation, you thanked him and that is that. If he did write you a bad letter, then the committee decided to admit you regardless of that recommendation and he cannot do anything anymore.

I suggest you thank him and move on. If you have a strong suspicion, then be careful in the future.


There is no objective requirement to inform or thank the professor.

Given that your reasons for perhaps wanting to inform/thank this person are a bit suspect (maybe part of you wants to go "Nya nya, I got in, in spite of you"), it would be wise to limit your contact with this person as much as possible (but without drawing attention to yourself).

Just let all of this wash away with the tide. Not long from now you will be enrolled in a new program and you'll be able to forget all about this person.

  • Yes, simple manners dictate that when somebody does something for you because you asked them to, you at the very least offer thanks. Commented May 12, 2017 at 12:56
  • @ScottSeidman - Not sure why you said "yes" -- I actually advocated for not thanking the professor given the context, since it would be healthier to give this person a wide berth. Commented May 13, 2017 at 4:13

You seem to think that because you were not accepted at the lower ranking universities, this professor must have written a bad recomendation letter. You seem to fail to acknowledge the possibility that those other universities did not like your profile that much for whatever reason. It's also relevant to have in mind that admission process is a subjective matter, conducted by human beings with a lot of imperfections.

  • I didn't say I know he wrote a bad recomendation letter because I was rejected. There are reasons not mentioned and beyond the point of the question Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:32
  • This fails to answer the question at all - that is, should the OP notify the professor of his acceptance? And while he failed to acknowledge that other schools might have had their reasons for rejection, neither did he state otherwise. Seems you're reading more into the question than what was written...
    – tjbtech
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 0:09
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    Well, he has received a lot of answers about the original question. I then explored this impression that I had while reading the question.
    – Shake Baby
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 4:05
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    @DannyBrowsku In fact, it's very clearly written in your question "so that only leaves me to assume that this top college did not weigh in so heavily on his recommendation letter to make their decision". This seems to imply that the only possibility is that the lower ranked colleges weighted heavily on the LoR.
    – Shake Baby
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 4:15

Yes it is a courtesy to inform recommendation letter writers about your results, more so when you've got a great admit.

However, you never know what criteria were used by the admission committee to select you, and what was your ranking among applicants. Who knows what effect that professor can have on the selectors once he knows of it.

So there is NO need to tell him now. You can do so when you've started studies at the institute.

  • +1 for the last paragraph. If you're worried about a reprisal where the professor recommends re-evaluation, then plan to go ahead and thank, but just wait first. Then you should be safe from that particular threat you're concerned over. I'm not used to hearing about colleges reversing decisions after they admitted someone, but I would find it to be even more unlikely that the admissions process could remove someone after they are an actual student who has started classes. (Or, if you're really worried, maybe wait until the first classes are graded and you've started your second classes.)
    – TOOGAM
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 11:07

You should thank your recommenders regardless of whether you got into a program. This is the least that is required by simple manners. You should let your recommenders know where you're going because its a simple courtesy that costs you nothing.

You have no reason to wonder if the recommender wrote you a strong letter. Such issues are best addressed when you request the recommendation, and not after. I can't imagine why anyone would take the time to write you a bad letter instead of just saying no, and if the reviewer wasn't in a position to write you as strong a letter as you wanted, that's on you, not the person who agreed to help you.

  • If I (right or wrong) sincerely believed a person should not be admitted, I well might write such a letter. Saying, no is in effect "I think you should go, so I'll allow other people to put you where I think you shouldn't be."
    – WGroleau
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 20:08

You should definitely perform the courtesy of thanking the professor for writing the recommendation. This could be done before (or regardless) of having been accepted to any program. Had you been rejected to every program it would still be good form to thank those that had taken the effort to write a recommendation.

I also submit that you may write a letter thanking each professor for their letter without stating to where you were accepted and to where you will go. You can be more general, for example, and express that you will work diligently to honor their recommendation.

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