2018 March 1

Letters of Recommendation

Are you considering asking me for a letter of recommendation? Here are some tips. Probably many of them apply to other faculty, but I don't speak for other faculty.

The main thing you must understand is that recommendations tend to be bland and boring. You want yours to be specific and persuasive. The more information I have, the better your letter will be.

First, do I know you well? Have you taken a course with me recently? (More than one course?) Did you earn a good grade? Did you participate in class? Did you visit my office or otherwise converse with me occasionally?

If you answered "no" to many of those questions, then maybe I'm not your best choice for a recommender. If you feel that I'm still your best choice, then okay, but work on improving your relationships with faculty.

Second, you should give me at least the following information. This is the minimum.

  1. A list of which courses you've taken with me, and when. It helps jog my memory.
  2. A list of positions/programs to which you are applying. For each one, give the date by which my recommendation is due. If you add more positions later, then send me an updated list with all of them (not just the new ones).
  3. An unofficial college transcript. I'm not really interested in the grades. I'm interested in which courses you've taken, because they are a sign of your effort toward your interests.
  4. A resume/CV. If you're young, then it's probably not long or distinguished, but it helps.
  5. Some prose about why you've chosen these programs, why they fit with your career plans (if any), etc. Some programs ask you to write an essay about this stuff. In that case, send me your essay.

Finally, you should ask me for a recommendation, before telling anyone that I'm going to recommend you. You should ask me at least a couple of weeks before the first due date. A day or two before the first due date, you should remind me.