Saturday, September 7, 2013

So you want a letter of recommendation from me...

I am happy to write letters of reference for students, but only under the following conditions. Please read this carefully before asking me to write one, as the answer might be “no,” and we can save everybody time and awkwardness.

1. Most important, you need to ask me for a letter. Do not assume that I will write for you, and then submit my name to an institution or program that generates an automatic email or phone call to me. Surprising me like that is a sure way to get me to decline the request.

If we had discussed the possibility of me writing for you some time ago, contact me closer to the due date to remind me of the discussion and to politely re-ask. Never assume you will get a letter.

2. Please give me lots of time to think about your request, and to compose a letter if I decide to accede to it. I ask for between 4 and 6 weeks’ time before the due date to write a letter. Professors, like anyone else, have many competing priorities. They need time to think about and put together a letter. They most certainly cannot drop their other work to hastily scribble something together without advance notice.

3. I will not write a letter for anyone who received a C or lower in my class, regardless of circumstances. You need to have received a B or an A for me to consider the request.

4. Critical: Do not assume that receiving an A in my course automatically guarantees a letter of reference. There are several factors that go into my consideration of the request, and into the letter itself. This includes, but is not limited to, work ethic, attitudes toward me or fellow students, time management skills, levels of maturity, and whether we’ve actually interacted (i.e., whether I know who you are).

This might seem harsh, but it is necessary, especially for you. It is better for you to get a strong letter from another professor than one from me that highlights your weaknesses, regardless of the grade you received in my course. This would significantly diminish your chances of acceptance into the program or institution.

5. If I do agree to write a letter, you must provide me with all information on the places/programs/institutions/scholarships you are applying to and need a letter for. You must also provide me with: all required forms, your résumé/CV, your transcript, your cover letter, and any other supporting materials you’ll be sending in.

All forms that require information such as names, addresses, department, and so on must be filled out by you—not me.

Please send all documents to me at the same time. (Note: I prefer documents sent by email over hard copy as much as possible. Let’s save some trees.) 

6. Be sure to check the option that waives the right to read my letter or recommendation form. Reference letters are supposed to be confidential.

7. Let me know how the application went. I am interested in helping you reach your goals, and like to keep in touch about these things.

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