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Letters of recommendation

If I have agreed to write recommendations for you, please send me an email consisting of the following:
  1. A complete list of programs to which you are applying (in due date order), with
    • the name of the program;
    • the destination for my letter (e.g. email address, physical address, web form); and
    • what sort of program it is (e.g., scholarship, graduate school, summer research experience).
    (Aside: if you need to add more programs to your list over time, send me a new email with a complete list of applications so that nothing gets lost.)
  2. An unofficial copy of your transcript.
  3. A copy of your personal statement (if applicable).
  4. A copy of your CV or resume (if you have one).
  5. All necessary forms that I'm required to fill out.
Additionally, at least two weeks before the first letter is due, e-mail me with your answers to the following questions (the more details the better):
  1. What is your name, year, and major?
  2. How long have I known you (years and months), and what is my relationship to you (instructor, research adviser, etc.)?
  3. For what classes have I had you, what final grades did I assign you, and how did you distinguish yourself in my classes?
  4. How would you describe yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  5. What are some of your academic and nonacademic accomplishments?
  6. What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you?
  7. What makes you particularly qualified for this position/honor/award?
  8. What are your long term goals and will this position/honor/award help? If so, how?
  9. Additional comments (REUs, summer research, interesting jobs, hobbies, etc.)?
The goal is to help me write the most comprehensive and detail-oriented letter possible. This is not the moment to be modest or self-effacing. Remember: I may be writing several letters this season, and the more help you give me, the more able I will be to write a personalized, effective letter.

Finally, when you list me as your letter writer, please waive your right to see my letter. This is standard practice in our field, and allows me to speak honestly and candidly about your strengths. Don't worry—if I cannot write you a positive letter, I will not agree to write for you. On the other hand, if you are not comfortable waiving access, then I may not be the right professor to write for you.

Feel free to send me gentle e-mail reminders as deadlines approach. And, of course, good luck!


Thanks to Professor Michael Orrison, from whose website I have shamelessly copied much of this content.