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Letter of Recommendation

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when asking for a letter a recommendation from faculty.

  • Remember first and foremost that you can only ask faculty to write on your behalf who are genuinely familiar with your work. While you can ask adjunct faculty to write for you, you should primarily approach tenure-track faculty with your request. Generally speaking, the more senior and the better-known a faculty member is in a particular field relevant to your application, the more weight the letter of recommendation will carry.
  • Second, please keep in mind that all faculty members have a busy work schedule and will only be able to write on your behalf if you give them at least two weeks notice before the recommendations are due. This is particularly important toward the end and at the beginning of every semester. Do not expect faculty to write on your behalf during times when they are not on campus (break, summer session, sabbatical) -- approach them during the semester instead, preferably in a visit to their office hours. In office hours, you can explain to them what you are applying for, get advice, and give them any necessary forms.
  • Remember that by and large only confidential recommendations are taken seriously by readers of your application. Give the faculty member a signed waiver form on which you waive the right to see the recommendation you are asking them to write. During a visit to office hours, the faculty member will usually indicate whether he or she is willing to write on your behalf. You generally need not fear that when waiving the right to see the recommendation you will run the risk of someone writing you a negative recommendation. As a matter of courtesy and professional tact, faculty will rather decline to write on your behalf than send you out into the world with a letter that says negative things about you.
  • Whether you meet with faculty in person, email, or ask them via the phone for a recommendation, they will be very grateful if you supply them with crucial additional information to help them in writing a letter on your behalf.
  • At the very least this information should consist of the addresses to which the letters of recommendation should be sent, along with the deadline for each.  In addition, you might want to supply the faculty member also with the following:
    • your mailing address and a phone number where you can be reached
    • a list of classes you have taken with the faculty member, a short summary of the work you did
    • a short description of what you are applying for; include a copy of the job ad
    • a short list of your strengths as a student, written from your own perspective
    • a short list of academic and career achievements
    • a short list of your career goals and objectives
    • a copy of application materials you are submitting
    All these materials will help faculty to write a more specific, targeted letter that might make a difference.