I am currently applying to graduate schools, all of which request 3 letters of recommendation.

Schools currently accept letters submitted by a recommender on an online service, or sent through postal mail.

Since the recommendation letters that are submitted on my behalf are similar for each school, my recommenders have to go through a sisyphic process:

  • Get the email from the school
  • Click the link
  • Find the recommendation letter file
  • Upload the file
  • Submit
  • Rinse and repeat for each school


What I hope to discover is a service where my recommenders can upload their letter ONCE, and then have that service dispense the letters to all the schools, instead of having the recommenders themselves do it for each school separately.

Does such a thing exist?

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    When people agree to write a reference for you, they know that they're signing up for this process, so I wouldn't worry too much about trying to find an alternative. – astronat Sep 16 '17 at 15:01
  • My recommenders don't happen to be American and are not familiar with the American system. In Europe the student is trusted to upload a scanned document themselves. If there's any doubt, the institution gets in touch with the recommender directly. There's absolutely not justification to make people who want to help an applicant do more work then they ought to. This concept needs to become more efficient and more friendly to the people who truly want to offer their support to an applicant. – Michael Seltenreich Sep 16 '17 at 19:06
  • @astronat Many Europeans would not expect such a process, see e.g. this answer of mine. And I'd agree to go through such a hassle (again) in exceptional cases only. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 16 '17 at 19:35
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    Wow, you make the process of uploading a PDF to a website sound really, really difficult. It must take literally seconds of somebody's time! – David Richerby Sep 16 '17 at 20:00
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    @Massimo and OP, I think it's important that we distinguish between continental Europe and the UK then, as it seems the UK system is more similar to the US in this regard. Anyhow, in this case it's probably a good idea to explain to your referees exactly what is required: forewarned is forearmed. – astronat Sep 16 '17 at 20:45

Many schools offer such a service. For example, UC Berkeley

The Letter Service will send letters to educational institutions to support your admission to graduate and professional school. We will also send letters to educational institutions for the purpose of supporting your applications for academic/educational and research employment, i.e., teaching positions.

You should check with your school/department to see what is offered.

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  • My school doesn't have a similar service. This is something I would be very happy to pay for. – Michael Seltenreich Sep 16 '17 at 16:55

Although such a service could save lots of time for the letter writers, I assume there is no popular service of this kind for a genuine reason. There are two types of letter of recommendation.

  • Generic: in which the writer describes his/her own perspective about you (both personally and professionally).
  • Tailored: in which the writer tells the target committee how and why you fit the requirements of the position (e.g., a specific PhD program) you applied for.

The first type can be in the form of To Who It May Concern, and you can upload a copy whenever you send an application.

The reason that the writer is directly asked for the second type is that s/he should write his/her recommendation based on the request considering the position under consideration. This means s/he may recommend you for a position but not for another one. For instance, s/he may believe that you are an excellent candidate in a specific PhD program, but your skills do not fit with another one (people tend to make shifts in their academic education). A tangible case is your previous experimental/theoretical skills when applying for a program with an emphasis on theory or experiment. In this case, there is no point to store a generic letter of recommendation and send it to different committees.

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    A common case is that the letter is "generic but confidential": the same letter will be sent to all schools, but the applicant is not supposed to be able to read it. This is the norm in the US. In that case, your "generic" solution doesn't apply, because the applicant won't be given a copy. Indeed, many schools don't accept recommendation letters through the applicant's interface. This is the case in which the proposed service would be useful. – Nate Eldredge Sep 18 '17 at 18:07

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