Letters of Recommendation

Occasionally, I am asked to write letters of recommendation for current or former students.  I am happy to do this, but there are some conditions.

1) You must complete and submit the following form: Recommendation Request

2) You must have earned at least an "A-" in my course and you must give me at least 1 month to work on the letter (and of course, more time is better if you want a thoughtful letter).

3) If you are applying to graduate school, I recommend that you read the advice posted by Charles Lipson of the University of Chicago.  He has a detailed website post on getting a good recommendation letter: http://www.charleslipson.com/Getting-a-good-recommendation.htm.

4) Finally, I also recommend you read Christopher Healy’s website which discusses his conditions for agreeing to write a letter: http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~cah2547/LoR.html

I agree with Professor Healy’s policy and I follow his policy when deciding whether I will write a letter.  My slightly altered version of this policy is shown below:

I am more than happy to write letters of recommendation for students. However, just as students have the right to ask for letters, I have the option of refusing to write such letters. My main criteria for agreement are these:
  • The student must have earned at least a "A-" (preferably an "A") in one of my courses.
  • I must be familiar with the student beyond a grade in my records--that is, he/she must have been a memorable presence either in the classroom or during my office hours.

These criteria ensure two things. First, if a student has earned a high grade in my course(s), we both know that I think highly of the student’s performance and abilities. The second restriction makes certain that I know a particular student well enough to write more than an extremely generic letter that would not ultimately serve to help secure acceptance to a graduate program. (Students should seek recommendation letters only from professors who have such respect and hopes for the individual applicant's academic endeavors.)

If I agree to write a recommendation, the student has several responsibilities:

  • Give me at least one month to work on the letter. More time is, of course, better. I want to write a carefully crafted letter, but with my schedule, I cannot always make time in a particular day--or even week--to work on such a document. Also, note that I am requesting time "to work" on the letter, so the three weeks should be prior to when you want me to mail the required elements. And make sure you inform me of the deadline by which the letter must be received.
  • Provide me with a document that lists the course(s) and the semester(s)/year(s) when you took the course(s) from me. Further, it is very helpful if you can lend me any work you did for the course--examinations, term papers, etc. As mentioned above, reference letters are most effective when the writer can speak about the specifics of a student’s performance.
  • Furnish all the necessary forms and other documents I will need to include. Any parts of such forms that should/can be filled out by the applicant--name, address, desired program, etc.-- should come to me already completed. (Even if an on-line option exists, include printed copies of the forms: if the on-line option is not functioning, I want to be able to send physical documents.).
  • Include your contact information (e-mail address and phone number) so that I can I can reach you if I need to ask you anything.

All of the materials that you submit to me should be placed together in a large envelope, with your name written on the outside. While not a necessary part of your request, you might also include other relevant information, such as citations for/copies of any writing you have published, particularly high GRE scores you received, or the personal/academic interests statement you will submit.

Please send me an e-mail reminder one week before the letter needs to be sent. In addition, I would appreciate it if you let me know where you get accepted.

Finally, realize that your request for a letter of recommendation represents your implicit permission for me to discuss otherwise confidential information concerning your performance in my course(s)--for example, the grade you received and the reasons why you earned it. I will provide an honest assessment of your academic skills.




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