Dozens of people ask me for letters of recommendation each semester, and I am usually happy to oblige. I prefer to give recommendations to those who have done good work for me, either in class or outside of it. Generally, if it is an application to grad school, that means “A” work or the equivalent. If it is for a program at the undergraduate level or for employment, this isn’t always the case (though it usually is). Since many grad schools ask the recommender how long he has known the student, I prefer to have at least known you for a couple of months, though longer is better.
I don’t give bad recommendations. If I can’t give you a positive recommendation, I’ll tell you this and suggest you find someone else. Often, this is because I just donít know you well enough to be able to provide a thorough and accurate picture of your abilities. I do consider this a “recommendation” and not an “evaluation,” so if I can’t say things that are nice, I won’t say anything at all. Do not hesitate to approach me to ask, but be aware that I may say “no.”
When I do give you a positive evaluation, I may suggest areas in which your strengths are not as apparent. If you are shy, I’m likely to mention this. If you are hardworking, but not particularly creative, I will also likely mention it. This gives those who get the review more to go on, and allows them to see if you are a good fit. I will be as accurate as I can be, if only because principle demands it.
I request the following items from anyone who wants a letter of recommendation from me, even if I’ve known them for five years:
- a resume
- a transcript (unofficial is fine)
- the statement of purpose or cover letter you will be sending
- a brochure, or at least the URL, from the program to which you will be applying, or some other document that suggests what it is that they are looking for in an applicant
- the instructions to recommenders, including any special forms, and the address to which the review will be sent (some are kind enough to provide addressed envelopes, which is a helpful gesture)
- the deadline by which the recs must be completed
And then, you will hear from me when I’ve sent out the recs.