(Thanks to Dave Musicant for the skeleton of these instructions.)
If you'd like me to write a letter of recommendation for you (for
summer research opportunities, graduate schools, fellowships,
whatever), then here are some guidelines for the information that I
need from you. First, you should get in touch with me (come by office
hours, email, ...) to discuss whatever you're applying for. For
example, if you're applying to graduate schools then it will be
helpful for us to discuss your candidate list of schools early in the
process. Then I'll want you to give me all of the following:
- Plenty of lead time.
You should ask me for a letter
at least one month before the first deadline that you'd like me
- Information about you. (Please email to me in either PDF
(preferred) or plain text, or print it out—I don't have Word.)
- A reminder of which classes you took from me and which terms
you took them.
- A transcript (unofficial).
- A resume/c.v. if you have one.
- A draft of your personal statement, essay, or whatever you're
producing as your part of the application.
- Any particular things that you'd like me to include in the letter.
Don't be modest! Take this as the chance to remind me of relevant
things that you've done that you think I ought to include. (I may
choose to leave something that I know out, but I can't choose to
include something that I've forgotten!)
- Information about the things for which you're applying.
- A summary table of all of the places you'd like me to send a letter.
Specifically, you should include
all of the following information:
- Due date (sort the table by increasing date!).
- Instructions for submitting the letter (URL for electronic
submission, mailing address for paper submission, email
- Any special notes about this particular application.
(What program are you
applying for? Do you have a specific advisor with whom you hope to
- If the letter is to be sent as a hard copy, please give me an
addressed, stamped envelope attached to any forms that I have to fill
- Some important notes:
- Please waive your access to the letter. This is more for
the people reading your application than for me: it is important that
the people reviewing your application believe that I am writing
completely honestly; they may think that a letter without the waiver
will be less frank.
- If you have a choice between asking me to send an electronic
recommendation and a paper recommendation, pick the paper. Many
recommendation web sites are so poorly designed and annoying to use
that I waste a lot of time trying to fill out their forms. I'll deal
with them if I have to, but I'd rather do things on paper.
Exception: to save trees, I've identified the following schools
as having good/acceptable online forms, and I'm very happy/willing to
submit these online:
- Good: Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Northwestern, RPI, University of Chicago,
University of North Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, UT Austin.
- Tolerable: Columbia, Duke, NYU, Princeton, UIUC, University of
Minnesota, University of Washington.
- Intolerable: Boston University, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Ohio
State, UC Irvine.
- A reminder as the deadline approaches.
You should send
me an email about one to two weeks before the first deadline to make
sure that I haven't forgotten about the deadline.
- A post-mortem.
Once you hear back about your
applications, please let me know how it went!
Thanks, and good luck!