Should You Write Your Own Recommendation Letter for Graduate School?

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I asked my professor for a letter of recommendation for graduate school. She asked me to draft a letter and send it to her. Is this unusual? What should I do?

In the business world, it's not uncommon for employers to ask employees to draft a letter on their behalf. The employer reviews the letter and then adds, deletes, and edits the information before sending it. What about academia? Is it okay for a professor to ask you to write your own recommendation letter? Is it okay for you to write it?

Who Wrote It?

Some argue that it is unethical for applicants to write their own letters. Admissions committees want the professor's insight and opinion, not the applicant's. Others say that it is obvious when an applicant has written a letter, and it detracts from his or her application. However, consider the purpose of a recommendation letter. Through this, a professor gives his or her word that you're a good candidate for graduate school. Will a professor vouch for you if he or she thinks you're not graduate school material? Not likely.

Letter of Recommendation Draft for Professor

Professors are busy. They have many students and get asked to write many recommendation letters each semester. This is one reason why professors ask students to draft their own letters. Another reason is that your letter will remind professors of the things they would like to write about in their recommendation. A professor may think very highly of you, but when it's time to write your recommendation letter and they are staring at a blank screen, it's helpful to have reminders to ensure that you're well-represented.

The Information You Provide

It is standard practice for applicants to provide professors with a packet of information as background for writing an effective recommendation letter. The packet typically includes information about the programs to which you are applying, your goals, admissions essays, and descriptions of significant research or other experiences. Professors will often supplement this information with a few questions to help them craft their message. Many will even ask students what they think are the important things to include and what they hope the letter will contribute to their application. Is this any different from asking students to draft a letter? Conceptually, no.

You Don't Have the Final Say

You may draft a letter but that letter is not necessarily what will be submitted. Virtually no professor will submit a student letter without reading and editing as he or she sees fit. Moreover, most students don't know how to write an effective recommendation letter, as they lack experience with them. Instead, the student's letter might serve as an outline and starting point. Regardless of the additions and edits made, signing a letter means that the professor owns it. The letter is his or her statement of support. A professor will not vouch for you and put his or her name behind you without agreeing with every statement in the letter.