Letters of Recommendation

  1. If you are considering asking me for a letter, please read the following information carefully, and in its entirety. I want to encourage you to pursue further academic study, apply for scholarships, and find jobs, so I am ELATED to help by writing a letter. But first…
  2. Consider if I am the best choice to write this letter for you. Do I know enough about you for me to write something beyond “this person got a good grade in my class”? Letters that say only that can actually do more harm than good.
  3. The key to effective recommendation letters is making them as detailed and specific as possible. I will write as many honest, specific, positive, and professional things as I possibly can based on what I know of you and your work. Nonetheless, you should consider giving me any other information that you think will help me write an even more detailed letter: transcript, resume, application essays, personal statement, or anything else.
  4. Please answer some questions for me! Why? First, it helps you analyze if the schools, scholarships, or positions you are applying for are really a good match. Second, it gives me an idea of your self-perceived strengths. Don’t worry: the actual letter I write will look little-to-nothing like your responses, but your responses have the potential to make an important contribution to your letter. Do not feel like you need to be modest. Also, realize that I am not “testing” you with this task. You do not need to labor over your answers to impress me. You just need to write something honest that will be helpful as I write about you. Please answer these questions:
    • What is your name, year/status in school, and field of study?
    • For what are you applying? (scholarship, graduate school, etc.)
    • How long have I known you, and what is my relationship(s) to you? (instructor, advisor, etc.)
    • If you were my student, for what class(es) have I had you, and in what ways did you shine (mathematical growth, creativity, collaboration, communication, etc.)? Please give a few examples — the more specific, the better. If I know you in a different context (e.g., you were my research student, research assistant, professional colleague, etc.) please answer the appropriately modified question.
    • What are your long term goals and how will this position/award help you achieve them?
    • Why is this position/award a good fit for your past experience?
  5. Please provide me with one paper or electronic packet containing everything I need to complete your recommendations. This should include:
    • A list summarizing where the letters have to go, and when they are due.
    • Any forms I need to fill out that are on paper.
    • A list of the email addresses or web sites where the recommendations must be submitted.
    • If you so desire, any of the items mentioned above that will help me write an effective letter (transcript, resume, essays, and so on).
    • Your responses to the questions above.
  6. Please provide me with these materials at least 4 weeks (and preferably more) before your first recommendation is due. I send out 100 – 200 recommendation letters each year, so I need that long to make sure I can get it done on time.