Letters of Recommendation

As interest in graduate programs increases year after year, it seems that writing letters of recommendation is just becoming another expectation of instructors and faculty. However, students should keep in mind that letter writing is not something that we are required or obligated to do. I write letters for students who I genuinely want to help to take the next steps in their academic career. The following is my advice on how to best procure a letter, mostly from myself but perhaps also applicable to other letter writers as well.

Please note that this is mostly applicable for Master’s program applications. I generally refrain from writing letters for PhD applications unless I know you fairly well (e.g. through research or TA’ing), in which case you’ll probably already have asked me directly.

At Least One Semester Prior

This is arguably the most important step. If you will be asking me for a letter, presumably we will have had some interactions together, whether it is through advising on an independent research project or in a class. Particularly if it is the latter, you should ensure that I can get to know you. Attend office hours regularly and introduce yourself. Post often on online discussion forums. Ask questions in class. The better that I know who you are, the stronger the eventual letter.

Requesting a Letter

Hopefully I have at least some impression of you by the time you’ve decided to ask me for a letter. If you took my class, you should also have gotten at least a A- grade or higher. To make things more efficient, you should send me an email clearly stating this request. Briefly include a reminder of which class(es) you took with me and the grade you received. Also include your latest resume and unofficial transcript, as well as your earliest deadline, which should be at least a month from when you send me the request. Assuming you’ve met these guidelines, I will generally respond favorably and perhaps ask for some follow-up information, such as a complete listing of deadlines and programs. I will usually prefer that you send all of the letter requests at the same time when you are ready.

Submission and Followup

I generally try to submit all your letters at the same time. If you have reason to believe that I’ve missed one or two, you may feel free to send me a reminder the day or two before the deadline. After all is said and done, it is then out of my control. But I am always happy to hear where you end up deciding to go once all decisions come back and you’ve submitted your response.