Letters of Recommendation

If you are considering asking me for a letter, please read the following information carefully, and in its entirety. There are important details throughout. I want to encourage students to pursue further academic study, apply for scholarships, and find jobs, so I am happy to help by writing a letter if you can follow the procedures below.

1. Consider if I am the best choice to write this letter for you. Do we know each other well enough for me to write something beyond “so-and-so got a good grade in my class”? Letters that say only that can actually do more harm than good.

2. If you do still want me to write you a letter, you should know that the key to effective recommendation letters is making them as detailed and specific as possible. I will write as many honest, specific, positive things as I possibly can based on my interactions with you. Nonetheless, you should consider giving me any other information that you think will help me write an even more detailed letter: transcript, resume, application essays, personal statement, or anything else.

3. Please write a rough draft of your recommendation letter. No, this is not a joke! This is a fairly common practice in academia and it serves a few purposes. First, it helps you analyze if the schools, scholarships, or positions you are applying for are really a good match. Second, it gives me an idea of your self-perceived strengths. Don't worry: the actual letter I write will look nothing like your draft, but your draft has the potential to make an important contribution to your letter. Do not feel like you need to be modest in your letter. Also, realize that I am not "testing" you with this task. You do not need to labor over your draft to impress me. You just need to write something honest that might be helpful as I write about you. I will not write you a recommendation if you do not provide me with this draft. The draft should -- at a bare minimum -- include answers to these questions:

  • What is your name, year/status in school, and field of study?
  • For what are you applying? (scholarship, graduate school, etc.)
  • How long have I known you, and what is my relationship(s) to you? (instructor, advisor, etc.)
  • If you were my student, for what class(es) have I had you, what final grade(s) did I assign you, and how did you distinguish yourself in my class(es)? If I know you in another context, please answer the appropriately modified question.
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What are your long term goals and how will this position/award help you achieve them?
  • What makes you particularly qualified for this position/award?

4. Please provide me with one paper or electronic packet containing everything I need to complete your recommendations. This should include:

  • A list summarizing where the letters have to go, and when they are due.
  • For paper recommendations: any forms that I need to fill out to include with my recommendation letters.
  • For paper recommendations: pre-addressed, stamped envelopes.
  • For electronic recommendations: a list of the email addresses or web sites where the recommendations must be submitted.
  • If you so desire, any of the items mentioned above that will help me write an effective letter (transcript, resume, essays, and so on).
  • Your draft of the recommendation letter.

5. Please provide me with these materials at least 6 weeks before your first recommendation is due. Because I get many requests for letters, I need that long to make sure I can get it done on time. I cannot honor letter requests that come at the last minute.