Suggestions—and requirements—regarding letters of recommendation
Consider the pertinent suggestions (from elsewhere) that I posted
Think about whether do want a letter of recommendation from me - am I one
of the people who can best speak to the qualities the addressee of the
recommendation is looking for? (Some of the items below may help you
figure this out.) Readers of letters of recommendation can usually tell when
the writer is trying to help but does not really have enough pertinent
information to do so.
When you ask me or once I agreed to write a letter of recommendation
Content of the recommendation
Unless you are applying for graduate school in mathematics and I know you from
an advanced course in mathematics, please write a rough draft of your letter of recommendation for me. Don't panic. The letter of recommendation I ultimately
send will look almost nothing like your draft.
It is a good exercise
for you to analyze whether what you apply for is indeed a good
Having your draft at hand will make my letter a better one
for several reasons.
There may be things about you that I do not
know and that I get to learn from your draft.
I may not know very
well what readers of the letter are looking for, and your draft may help me
in this respect.
It may let you tell me more about research or
classes or other things you have done on which I should comment.
gives me a sense of your writing ability, which is something about which
graduate schools or employers tend to ask.
It may point out to me
strengths of yours that I am aware of but might not have otherwise
remembered to put in my letter.
An advantage for you is
that the time you spend thinking about what readers of the letter need to
know may prepare you better for follow-up such as an interview.
It will help if
your draft or a separate communication tells me as much as you know about what the
recipient of the letter of recommendation is looking for. This tends to be
clear in cases such as graduate school in mathematics, but in some other cases
it may help me to have a clearer idea what the desired qualities are.
Specifically, consider—and tell me the answers to— those questions below that seem pertinent; in most
cases many of these questions are not pertinent, but that does not mean that you should skip any of those that are:
What is your name, year, and major?
For what are you applying? (Scholarship, graduate school,
What are the programs to which you are applying, and the
How long have I known you (years/months), and what is my relationship(s) to
you (instructor, advisor, etc.)?
For what class(es) have I had you, what final grade(s) did
I assign you, and how did you distinguish yourself in my
How would you describe yourself?
What are some of your academic accomplishments?
What are some of your nonacademic accomplishments?
What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you?
What makes you particularly qualified for this
What are your long term goals and will this position/honor/award
help? If so, how?
Whom else are you asking for a letter of recommendation?
If there is information about you that will not be apparent from my records
but that may help me craft a good letter for the purpose at hand, please do
not hesitate to let me know.
Please make sure to let me know the deadline for the letter.
Please provide confidentiality waivers and email me
a copy of your transcript (or grant me access and tell me how to retrieve it),
a copy of your personal statement (if applicable),
all pertinent submission information.
For paper letters, please provide via my department mailbox or in person
all necessary forms.
addressed envelopes (no stamps needed).
Until I tell
you that I have sent or submitted the letter, please remind me at the following times: 1
month before the deadline, 2 weeks before the deadline, 1 week before the
deadline, 4 days before the deadline, 2 days before the deadline, the day
before the deadline, the day of the deadline. Hopefully these reminders are not necessary, but I am sure you want to be better safe than sorry (and you can impres me with your project management skills by providing these reminders on schedule).