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Letters of Recommendation

I’m usually happy to write letters of recommendation for students who’ve taken – and meaningfully engaged in – at least one of my classes, and who, if they’ve been out of school for a while, have kept in touch at least periodically. I also often write letters for colleagues and professional collaborators. I can typically handle sets of letters for about 12 or 15 individuals each semester — so if I have to decline your request, it might be because I’m already maxed out!

Why do I need to set these limits? Because writing a strong, customized letter that concretely describes your unique talents and qualifications is a time-intensive process. And writing multiple letters is cumulatively demanding – particularly every fall, as undergrads apply for grad school, as Master’s students apply for PhD’s, and as both my PhD advisees and my colleagues apply for jobs. I write bespoke letters for each candidate, and the writing process – which involves closely reviewing your past work and future plans – typically takes me about two hours. If you’re applying for graduate school or a prize or fellowship, I’ll also typically invest time in reviewing and offering feedback on your statement of purpose and / or application. And tweaking the application letter for each position – sometimes eight to twelve different schools for a PhD applicant, or a few dozen universities for a prospective faculty member – and navigating their idiosyncratic application systems, takes time. In all, I dedicate an average of six or seven hours to each candidate. This is why it’s hard for me to simply “squeeze in” last-minute requests.

I ask that you please help me help you by doing the following:

  • Request your letters as early in the semester as possible. If you wait until close to your deadlines, I’m likely already fully committed to supporting other students!
  • Roughly a month before your first deadline, please share with me a spreadsheet listing: (1) the programs or opportunities you’re applying for; (2) a couple words on why each program appeals to you, what specific faculty you’d like to work with, what institutional resources you’d be eager to take advantage of, etc., so I can try to work those details into each letter, if possible; (3) links to where I can find more information about the program; (4) if applicable, particular addressees (e.g., do I address my letter to the chair of the search committee?); (5) instructions for my letter submission (e.g., will I receive an email prompting to upload my letter via the university’s application management system, which is typically the case; do I email the search committee chair; do I upload to Interfolio?); and (6) my letter deadline for each school / position. At this time, please also send me (1) a copy of your cv / resume; (2) a draft of your statement of purpose and/or cover letter; and (3) a brief description of the projects you’ve completed in my classes. I’m happy to provide feedback on both the cv and statement, if it would be helpful.
  • Because particular seasonal letter of rec deadlines typically fall within a few (super-busy) weeks of one another, things can get very overwhelming — especially when I’m submitting eight or ten letters for each of 12 different students, many of whom are applying to some of the same schools. With 100+ letter request emails hitting my inbox all at once, it’s possible for mistakes to happen.
    …..Thus, I strongly prefer to take care of each applicant’s letters in one sitting – i.e., I’d ideally upload all eight or ten or [?] of your letters in one fell swoop. I ask that you please register me in each university’s application systems (roughly) simultaneously, so I receive all the notifications on the same day. Please confirm this date with me at least a week in advance, so I can block out time for you, and schedule your “upload session” around those for my other advisees.
  • And please check back in after you’ve heard about the status of your applications!

Thank you! [Image: Wax Seal, via Wikimedia]

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