Letters of Reference

I am often happy to provide letters of reference for students, but please keep in mind the following pointers:

  • You should ask for a letter of reference only from someone who knows you reasonably well and can write excellent things about you. Letters are taken quite seriously by most programs, and even a “good” letter that simply replicates information that someone could learn from your transcript and CV (e.g., stating that you get good grades and have XYZ experience) is likely to do you a disservice rather than a service, as it will make it sound like there isn’t anything more wonderful to say.
  • Therefore, if you plan to ask me for a letter, you should make a point of making yourself personally known to me throughout the semester you’re in my course. Introduce yourself, come to office hours, send me e-mails, etc. Help me get to know you and see that you are a bright, talented, dedicated individual so that I can convey that in a letter. (You should be doing this anyway if you want to be an excellent student!)
  • Personally, I require that I have had you in class for an entire semester (including the exam / final paper!) before I will even consider writing a letter of reference for you. I prefer to have had you as a student for longer than that, but that is the minimum for me to be able to say anything meaningful about you. 
  • When you ask for a letter, please don’t assume that the answer will be “yes.” If I don’t think it’s in your best interests for me to write you a letter, I won’t do it.
  • If I agree to write you a letter or letters, please download the form at the bottom of this page, fill out the requested information, and compile the requested materials, at least two weeks before the letter is due.

Also, if you are asking for multiple letters at the same time, please provide a summary page that lists all of the programs you are applying to and their due dates, in chronological order. Please don’t be afraid to ask for multiple letters of recommendation — once I have written one, it’s much easier to write others for additional programs. 

It’s also a good idea to check back in with me if I have agreed to write a letter and you haven’t heard anything. If, for example, you haven’t heard from me that I have submitted the letter and there’s only a week before it’s due, please send me an e-mail asking me if I have submitted it because it is due in a week!

Finally: please keep me informed of your progress! If I’m writing you a letter of reference, it means that I think you are an excellent student and am taking the time to try to help you succeed. Please let me know whether you are accepted into the program and/or what your future plans are!

Form for reference letter requests