Last Updated: 11/8/2020.
If you are reading this page, you might be considering or have already asked that I write you a letter of recommendation. I have a standard response to requests for writing recommendations, regardless of how well I know the person or in what context.
I take recommendation writing very seriously. While it is an aspect of my job, I am very aware that the letter I write may have an impact on the requestor’s future plans. I spend a significant amount of my time on each in the evenings and on weekends thinking, writing, reviewing, and submitting a recommendation for almost anyone, should they ask.
So, before I potentially embark on writing this letter for you, I need you to consider the following:
Recommendations that impress a committee are ones where the writer can tell a significant “story” about the applicant: where the professor and the student have interacted significantly, in which the student put in a lot of effort, and/or did very well in the class. Conversely, committees are not impressed if a recommender does not have much to say.
A useful exercise is to imagine what types of things you think I would be able to write about you in a letter. There are lots of things you probably want to highlight about yourself in your personal statement for any application, but are there any that I can personally speak to them from our interactions in work/class? The more specific I can be about our interactions will generally result in a letter that is considered more strong by a committee. Conversely, if I can only say general statements like "They did well in the class", committees might not be as impressed (since they can already see that in your transcript).
A note: Many students ask me for letters of recommendation since they want to apply to CS programs and had me in a CS course. Usually, admissions committees care more about what the professor has to say in the letter rather than what unit they teach in; just because I teach CS doesn't necessarily mean my letter will be seen more favorably in CS admissions committees if I don't have a lot to say about our interactions. In other words, this means the advice above still applies and you should think about what things I can say about you as a more important feature than the fact that I teach CS.
If emailing me to ask for a recommendation is one of the first times we have ever talked, I will likely not be able to write a strong letter of recommendation. As the two paragraphs above say, I need to be able to write specifically about your performance in my classes. It's difficult for me to write about your specific strengths if I never was able to see you demonstrate them in our interactions.
Given what I have just said, if you feel there is another person more suitable for this letter writing, I will not be offended if you change your mind and ask that other person instead. My goal is for you to have the best recommendation letter written for you possible. Now, if you’ve read the above and you still feel I am the best person to write this letter I will need the following from you via email:
I will need to know some logistic details about your application process. You need to send me the following information for each school/program you wish for me to write a letter to:
There are also some parameters that I use when deciding to accept requests for letters of recommendation. Requests that don't meet these parameters may be denied.
If you are applying to the B.S/M.S program in the Allen School, you do not need to include these logistic details. We use an internal tool for the application.
Confidential recommendations are much stronger than non-confidential ones, so sending a confidential recommendation works to your benefit. Additionally, I will only write confidential recommendations. Remember to sign the confidential authorization on all of your forms! If your form does not include a place to sign for a confidential authorization, please type out “I understand that Federal Law provides me with a right of access to this letter of recommendation. I hereby waive my right of access to this confidential recommendation” on a separate piece of paper and sign it for me. I will include it with my letter. I need a piece of paper stating the confidentiality for every single letter I send for you.
Please send an email with the following background information to help me craft my letter:
Best of luck with your application!
Much of this text is borrowed from my colleagues, Lauren Bricker and Justin Hsia.