My Policy for Writing Letters of Recommendation
December 2, 2011, v. 2.3
These policies are designed to be mutually beneficial.
All students should send me reminders when the due date for the letter approaches. Save your bacon. Do not hesitate!
To be considerate, and to help me in the future, please tell me what happened with your application.
Please consult my handout on how to write a cover letter for advice on that subject, and here for more Great LRec Advice from Charles Lipson.
Please make letter of recommendation requests at least three (3) weeks, 21 days, before I have to complete the letter (when it should be mailed, not when it is due at its destination). Requests that do not allow at least two weeks for preparation are tantamount to faits accomplis and are not likely to be completed on time or in a timely manner. Deadlines and other pressures mean that two weeks is not a guarantee, but I will do my best to write the letter within that time. The best course of action is to get the request in as soon as possible.
Please include with the request any information that will help make you a rounder character and that will help me tailor the letter both for you as an individual and to the program you are applying to. Specific details create more persuasive letters. Please also include an envelope, addressed and stamped (if necessary), for the letter, with the date the letter should be sent written on the envelope. Helpful information typically includes:
* A CV/resume
* Transcript or a list of courses taken w/ grades and GPA (if not part of CV)* Papers or other work done in my courses
* A copy of the cover letter you will be sending to the program/school
* Information about the program being applied to
Remember that many applications are to places which will sooner or later receive a number of letters of recommendation from me. This means two things. First, my reputation is on the line. The game is iterated and there is a shadow of the future. While I will write the best letter possible, I will be accurate. In the end, this serves the most deserving students. Second, it pays to make your letter as specific and detailed as possible. That is why the above material (and deadline) is helpful. Specifics may help compensate for deficiencies relative to other candidates.
I reserve the right not to write a letter. This is often based on not knowing the student well enough or not wanting to write a letter that would hurt the student's prospects. It is helpful, but not necessary, for a student to have had two courses from me before soliciting a letter.
I may also not write letters if I have too many requests. Plan ahead. Another factor taken into account in the decision to take on a letter or to write a detailed letter involving one or more meetings with the student is the aim of the student. I enjoy helping students apply for Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Rotary, Scoville, etc., and any other IR/FP-related scholarships/fellowships/internships/abroadships. If people are fired up to do something, that fires me up. The more specific, lofty, or otherwise worthy the goal, the better. If people want to go to generic XYZ school just because, then my letter - if I am willing to write it at all - will reflect that level of caring and purpose.
Graduate Student Letters
Graduate student letters are highly tailored often specifically targeted missives that usually evolve over the course of years.
All of the above applies, except that:
* The request should be made one month in advance instead of three weeks.
* Please also submit any proposals, research statements, and other such materials submitted for fellowships and job applications.
* You must meet with me to discuss your plans if the letter is for job applications