Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are part of the American system. However, they are not,
strictly speaking, either a students right or a professors obligation. They fall
somewhere in between. Most professors are happy to write a few letters each year
and feel obligated to do so. Students should be careful not to try to abuse the system
by asking for a large number of letters. Students should weigh carefully the number
they request, especially from the same teacher. Likewise, alumni should keep in touch
for a few years if they hope busy former professors will spring into action on their
behalf after they have left our Department.
Advice for students when requesting a letter:
1. Consider carefully your relationship with a member of the faculty before
asking for a letter. Will your request put the professor in an uncomfortable position?
Consider things like: Has the professor seen you do poorly in a course? Miss work?
Miss class often?
2. Give the professor ample time (three-four weeks).
3. Ask; do not demand.
4. Give the following information in writing: Name of academic program or job
title and person to whom the letter should be addressed. Also, give the professor
your curriculum vitae, list courses taken from the professor in question, with date
(semester), grade, and, perhaps, title of research paper or presentation.
5. If the application form allows you to opt out of the right to see the letter,
do so. People who reserve the right to see their files at a later date give the
impression (to the professor and to the committee reviewing the application) that
they are potential trouble makers.
6. Give a stamped envelope with the address on it if the letter is to be mailed.
7. Send a thank-you note after the letter has been written.
8. Inform the professor if your application is successful.