Letters of recommendation

I am often asked to write letters of recommendation, and I take pride in writing them well. Here are some things you can do to help me write a strong letter for you.

Online or paper?

Some programs (especially graduate schools) will accept online recommendations on a secure web site. If this is possible, I would much prefer to submit letters online.


I appreciate having at least three weeks advance notice before the deadline, especially if I have not written a letter for you before. (If you need additional letters, I can usually send these out with much less advance notice.) However, you should feel free to ask me even if the deadline is less than three weeks away.

What you should provide for me

(1) Logistical information
a. Due dates
b. Stamped addressed envelopes
c. If possible, the names and titles (Dr., Ms., President...) of the recipients (not necessary for grad school letters)

(2) Information about the programs
a. For internships, fellowships, REUs, jobs, etc.: A brief description or link to the web page describing the programs that you are applying to
b. For graduate and professional programs, I do not need specific information on each program. However, if you are applying to work with a particular person (e.g., a professor in grad school), a link to that person's web page is helpful.

(3) Information about you
a. Your resume or c.v.
b. A copy of your application form and essay. A draft essay is fine.
c. Any "talking points" or special skills that you'd like me to mention in the letter -- e.g., specific coursework, extracurricular experience, internships, computer skills, etc.
d. A list of the other people writing letters for you
e. A transcript (an unofficial copy is fine). However, if you are a current Swat student, or if you are a Swat alum and your grade information is online in the registrar's system, then you don't need to provide a transcript; I can access it myself online.

Why do I ask for this information?

All of these items help me write a stronger letter for you and to tailor it to the particular program, because they let me see what qualities the programs are looking for. For instance, if a program says it values "strong quantitative and analytical skills", I can mention that in the letter. Your resume or application essay often give me additional items I can highlight. And knowing who else is writing you a letter lets me know what I should emphasize.

Waiving your rights

Some forms ask you whether you want to waive your rights to see the letter. You should always waive your rights; readers will give your letters less weight if you do not do so. (I can attest to this from first-hand knowledge, as I have served on graduate admissions committees.)

Following up

I will let you know, usually by email, when I have sent out your letters. If you haven't heard from me by a week before the deadline, feel free to send me an email to remind me. In fact, I'll write the email for you -- just copy and paste the following and send it to me:

This is just a reminder that my letter of recommendation is due next week. Please let me know when you've sent it in. Thanks.
[your name]

As a general policy, I prefer to send letters directly to the institution. If your institution asks for letters to be sent by the applicant, please ask them if they can receive a letter directly from me.

Finally, I'd appreciate hearing news of the outcome of your applications.

I hope these steps will help me write the strongest possible letter for you. Thanks!

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