So you want a recommendation from me? This page gives you information that will make the process easier for all concerned and so ensures that by the time I'm writing the letter, I still feel good about you and your professionalism.
As a rule, I will not agree to write a recommendation unless I can make it strong enough for it to be useful. That doesn't mean I give every person my strongest recommendation; it means simply that I recommend you only when I can recommend you. The letter will be fair and candid. (I take the confidentiality of the letters extremely seriously, though: do not expect me to share it with you.) For me to be able to recommend you, the following criteria usually apply:
- I know you. (So you weren't just a student in a big intro class I taught, but actually talked to me or something like that.)
- If you were in a course I taught, your performance was above course average. (This doesn't apply to grad students.)
- My recommendation will be meaningful: what I can say about you is a relevant criterion for whatever you are applying for. (I likely won't be able to comment on your sharpshooting, calculus, or culinary skills.)
What I want to know
- What is the recommendation for? Is it for law school? Grad school? For a job or an internship? And where specifically are you applying? Harvard Law? Some more regional school? Anything is fine, but the more I know, the more specific I can be in my recommendation.
- What are the criteria by which you'll be evaluated? This isn't necessary if the letter is for law school or graduate school in the social sciences or humanities; I know what they'll be looking for.
- When do you plan to apply? I know that students are often encouraged to contact their professors during or right after a course and get a letter in their files from the professor. I do encourage you to get in touch with me as soon as you know you want a letter from me, but I prefer to write closer to the time you need it: if you are sophomore, talk to me now, but I'll be happy to write the letter during your senior year, if that's when you need your law school letter.
What I need to have
- AT LEAST TWO WEEKS' NOTICE. Under no circumstances will I write a recommendation if you give me less than two weeks' notice. Three or four weeks would be preferable, and even significantly longer is good.
- All necessary forms, filled out as much as possible. You know my name, position, address and phone number (they are on my homepage); you can fill those out. Some forms (e.g., UM Career Center's forms) require a signature indicating whether you waive or decline to waive your FERPA rights; you need to make sure that you sign one of the two places. (I of course do not require that you waive your rights; that is your choice.)
- Details on how to deliver the letter or letters. If you get it, I will give it to you in a sealed envelope. If I send it directly, I need to have the address or addresses. I don't need stamped envelopes, though. Just the addresses will suffice. If they are submitted electronically, you'll need to make sure I get the details on where and how to upload the letter.