Letter of Recommendation

Guidelines for Requesting a Reference Letter ✉️

I take the writing of recommendation letters very seriously, and I expect students to do the same. Recommendations reflect not just the quality of the student, but also the integrity of the faculty and ultimately the university. Professors are obligated to be objective and specific about a student’s fitness for a given position; if employers and graduate schools learn to distrust the praise from an faculty member, it puts the entire institute’s reputation in jeopardy. And that damages the prospects of all students seeking positions after graduation.

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Before asking me to write a letter of recommendation, I encourage the student to take the following into consideration

  1. Do I know you? Choose a faculty member who knows you well, preferably in a variety of contexts. Employers and graduate schools read hundreds of reference letters, most of which are filled with generic praise. Specific reference letters are more likely to get noticed and appreciated. The more a professor/supervisor knows about you, the more specific the letter will be.

  2. Make a formal request (by email or by appointment). Explain the purpose of the recommendation and why you have chosen the me. Give the me time to consider your request.

  3. Ask early. Make an appointment to discuss the recommendation at least three weeks in advance of the deadline—preferably a month or more, especially if you need multiple letters. I may have very tight schedules and need ample time to write a thoughtful and distinctive letter.

  4. Provide information about the position. The more I know about the position or school you seek to enter, the more easily I can tailor the letter toward a specific audience. Bring the following materials to your appointment:

    1. A description of the job or graduate school(s) to which you are applying. This requires some research on your part, and it will help you assess how suited you are to the position. If you are applying to multiple places, bring all your reference requests at once.

    2. The application forms and materials, with the deadlines clearly indicated and the relevant portions filled in. If the application asks whether you waive (give up) your right to view the recommendation letter, we recommend that you agree to waive it, guaranteeing that the letter is candid and trustworthy. Letters for students who do not waive their right to view it are taken less seriously or ignored.

  5. Provide information about yourself. The more I know about your past work, your extracurricular interests, and your aspirations, the more specific I can be about your talents and motivation. Bring the following materials to your appointment:

    1. An updated resume that highlights the experience and skills relevant to the position. Don’t limit your resume to academic pursuits—include extracurricular activities, job experience, and honors.

    2. A transcript. This usually isn’t necessary, but may required in some cases.

    3. A written description of your career interests and aspirations—why are you applying to this position? If you are applying to graduate school, bring a draft of your “statement of purpose.”

    4. A list of other helpful details about your work and experience with me.

    5. A list of your other references. If the I knows who else is writing a letter on your behalf, I can calibrate the letter to play up certain strengths that the other references may be less familiar with. You may request which qualities you would like to stress.

  6. Double-check that the letter has arrived by the deadline. If not, contact the me.

  7. Try to send me a thank-you note. I can spend several hours constructing a single letter; it’s nice to be acknowledged. And let me know whether you got the position!