Thursday, August 29, 2013

From the Archives: "On Letters of Recommendation"

With the new semester upon us, it is only a matter of time before students start to ask for letters of recommendation.  A few years ago I did a post on what I expect from students who ask me for a letter.  You can read the entire post here, but in the meantime I have pasted a short excerpt below:

I am always willing to write letters on behalf of my students and former students. Unlike some professors, I do not think I have ever turned down a request to write a letter. Having said that, I will regularly get requests for letters from students that I do not know very well. They may have taken me for a course, but I do not remember much about their academic performance. I will write a letter for a student like this, but I often tell them that there is not a lot I can say about them and perhaps they should think about asking a professor who they know a bit better. Yet even in situations like this, the student will ask me to write the letter anyway.

With all this in mind, here are a few of my rules for requesting letters of recommendation:

  • Get to know me. Stop by and chat during office hours. Come in to talk about your assignments. Ask for career advice. This needs to be done well before your senior year and you should really be in the habit of doing this throughout your college career. The more I know about you, the better the letter will be.
  • Try to ask for a letter of recommendation in a face-to-face meeting. This way I can chat with you about the kinds of programs you are applying to and the kind of goals you hope that graduate school will help you to achieve. Don't worry, I don't bite.