Letter of Recommendation Policy
Letters of recommendation are a meaningful component of many post-graduate applications and I am happy to write them for students. When asking me, there are several things to consider.
Whom to ask?
You should ask for letters from people who know you well. This will undoubtedly make for a stronger, more personal letter of recommendation that will carry more weight. In general, the better someone knows you, the better they will be able to speak to aspects of your character and abilities that do not always come through on a transcript (work ethic, intellectual curiosity, collaboration skills, background, etc.). It is ideal to have had two or more classes with me so I can then comment on your consistency across courses and subject matters.
Your performance in my course(s) matters greatly. It will be difficult to write a compelling letter of recommendation for anyone earning below a B as many programs specifically ask recommenders to compare and rank students. In addition to your final grade, you should consider whether you spoke in class or asked questions, whether you attended office hours, or did anything else to stand out and leave a positive impression. If you did none of these things, I will not be able to add much apart from your final grade and the letter will inevitably be weak.
Please request a letter of recommendation at least one month before it is due. This leaves me time to balance my other responsibilities, but it also leaves time for you to find another recommender if I cannot accommodate your request.
The best letters of recommendation are detailed and personal, so please provide me with any information that might be useful. While this varies based on the type of opportunity to which you’re applying, you should generally provide your academic transcript and a list of any achievements, honors, jobs, or other events that bear on your academic success. Conversely, if your academic performance greatly improved or suffered for a particular reason, you may want to let me know why (with as much or as little detail as you prefer). By letting me know, I can address this in my letter and potentially forestall questions about your abilities.
Please also provide me with useful information about the opportunity to which you are applying. For graduate school: what are your motivations, ambitions, and why are you applying to certain departments or schools? For jobs and internships, why do you want this particular position and what skills or other qualities should I emphasize in the letter? Most of these items should be addressed in your own cover letter which you may wish to share with me.
Finally, when requesting a letter, please provide a full list of institutions or organizations to which you are applying along with relevant submission instructions and deadlines for each.
I treat letters of recommendation as confidential documents and I do not share them with students. I believe letters are taken more seriously when a selection committee knows that students are not reading them. This does not mean that the contents of a letter could or will be negative. If I cannot be positive about your performance, I will simply tell you that I cannot write a letter for you.