My Recommendation Letter Guidelines/Policies

Many students ask me for recommendation letters and I take the responsibility very seriously.  A recommendation letter should showcase a student’s strengths and convince the selection committee that this student will be excellent for the summer program, scholarship, or graduate program.  In order for my letters to do this, I’ve established a few policies to ensure that I have the information and time required to have each letter be as strong as possible.

First, I need to have enough time to write letters.  One year, I received requests for over 70 letters for 16 different students.  It is very important to me that I have enough time to craft as strong of a letter as possible for you, so I must limit the number of letters I write.  You also must make the request reasonably far ahead of time.

Second, I need information to base the letter on.  While I may have interacted with you in many contexts or for a long duration, it is always helpful to know what you do outside of my classroom.  Additionally, I need to know why you are applying to these specific opportunities.  A strong letter will support everything that you are already presenting in your application.

Third, I need to not waste my time.  Some programs ask for a specific form to be filled out, rather than a written letter.  I need to know the format that the program wants!  I also need to know if you are cutting programs or applying to new programs.  It is also important that you put your best effort into all of your applications and that you follow through – if I tell other students “no”, because I’m using my time writing letters for you, it is really unfair if you decide to not finish your applications.

The detailed policies are below – I’m posting them here so that you can find them again, even after you graduate.  Keep in mind that every faculty member has different policies, and that I might need to edit these in the future (when I am on sabbatical, for instance).

  • I can write letters for 3 students per month.  You “month” corresponds to the earliest deadline that you need a letter by.  This is independent of when you make your request, but the first students who ask get priority.  Later deadlines are fine.  For instance, if you have one deadline in October, 3 in December, and 2 in January: you are one of my “October” slots.  If, in November, you add a third January deadline, it is no problem.
  • You must provide me a CV/resume, even if the program doesn’t require it.  What else have you done in college, other than been in my course?  Feel free to send me anything else you think I should look at, such as a link to your portfolio or a transcript.
  • For each program, you need to provide a deadline and why you are applying to that program. This can be through a spreadsheet (Google sheets works well for this), though e-mail is fine too.  Ideally, you would provide me a personal statement (or whatever is the main written component of the application) for each application.  For graduate school, that might be one personal statement that you tailor a little bit for each program.
  • You must tell me how the letter is to be submitted. There is usually information somewhere on the application website about this – I might need to e-mail it to a specific e-mail address, or I might receive a link to submit it.  If I will receive a link, I am unlikely to start the letter until I receive the link – since the link might take me to a form.  This should go with the above information.
  • You need to have concrete info and deadlines at least 2 weeks ahead of time.  Ideally you will have made the request earlier (at least a month!), but I know it is difficult to have everything pulled together right at the beginning.   You should send me updated personal statements (etc) at this point, if they have changed.
  • Please remind me about deadlines.  One of my worst fears is that I miss a deadline and because of that you are not accepted to this opportunity!  Ideally, I’d like 1-week, 2-day, and day-of reminders.  In general, I e-mail you when I have submitted letters.  If you haven’t received an e-mail from me saying it is submitted, assume you need to remind me.
  • Please ask for letters and provide information via e-mail.  It is fine if you start by asking in person or if you give me some information in hard copy.  However, I use e-mail to organize these requests so I also need an e-mail request.  Note that I am unlikely to remember which months I am “full” for, so if you ask in person (which is polite!), I am likely to reply that I need to check my spreadsheet…

I really want to help you succeed in life, and the above policies have been established to help me do this.   When you don’t follow my policies, it makes me much less likely to write letters for you in the future.  Writing letters is a lot of work, but it is rewarding to see students earn amazing opportunities.