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Requesting Letters of Recommendation
One thing that I love to do is brag about students! So I am happy to write a letter of recommendation for you if you are applying for graduate school, fellowships, internships, or employment. However, it is important for you to bear in mind that I typically write several dozen letters each semester for colleagues and students. Thus, it is imperative that you follow the instructions below to ensure a smooth process.
BEFORE YOU MAKE A REQUEST
First, ask yourself if I am the right person for a recommendation. Typically, I write letters for students who have taken classes with me, completed assignments for me, or worked with me as a teaching or research assistant. If we have not worked together in one of these capacities, it will be more difficult for me to write a credible letter of recommendation. Please bear in mind that I do not write 'endorsements' (generic letters that you keep on file and to which you have access).
As a rule, I usually will not write a letter of recommendation without at least a month's advance notice. But I also know that life is not always so linear, and opportunities might come your way with little time to spare, especially with potential jobs. If there is less than one month, please be sure to flag this when you write with your request. I cannot promise that I will be able to write with short notice, but I will look at my workload and let you know.
Since we have worked together in courses or on projects, it is not absolutely necessary that we meet before I write letters on your behalf. However, you may have questions about graduate programs and the application process, and for the sake of efficiency it is often best to discuss these in person well in advance of deadlines. If in doubt, contact me to set up an appointment and we can go from there.
Please note that I only write letters under condition of confidentiality. In the case of graduate school applications, I will not write letters of recommendation unless the student has waived his or her right of access. Because I take this responsibility very seriously, I want the letter to carry the utmost weight with admissions, fellowship, or job search committees. As someone who has served on such committees many times, I know that confidential letters are taken far more seriously. I do not want to spend time writing a careful, extensive letter only to have it afforded less weight.
THE REQUEST--WHAT I NEED FROM YOU
Include a brief overview that summarizes why you are applying to graduate schools and what you hope to accomplish. List the course(s) that you took with me, when you took them (semester/year), and the grade you received. Also include details such as the title of any term papers you wrote for me and the subject of your thesis project, if relevant. Finally, let me know if there are any aspects of your work that you wish me to highlight, such as specific volunteer experiences or major projects.
List of programs
Provide a list of universities and degree programs to which you are applying, along with due dates for each. If you are applying to work with specific professors, indicate that here. Be sure to include the US mail address of each program. I realize that most letters are now sent electronically, but the convention of the letters themselves still dictates using the program address in the salutation section.
Draft statement of purpose
Most graduate programs require that you include a statement of purpose. This document conveys your reasons for choosing the program, your areas of scholarly and / or practice interest, and the nature of research you intend to pursue (especially for Ph.D. programs). If you are applying to a professional masters program or professional employment, you will want to describe your vocational trajectory. In any case, please include your draft statement of purpose with the materials.
Updated curriculum vitae
This is a must. I need to have a full record of your accomplishments to which I can refer while writing the letter. This will not only include employment history, as a resumé would, but also your educational history, publications, conference presentations, volunteer work, awards and recognitions, and other details.
AFTER THE REQUEST: FOLLOWING THROUGH
If I agree to write a letter on your behalf, you agree to let me know the outcome of your application. I do not just write these letters as a matter of mechanical reflex or obligation, but rather out of genuine interest in your future. So please remember this and let me know how things turn out!