Letters of Recommendation, and References

In most cases, I will be glad to help you (students and recent alumni) by writing a letter of recommendation (often required for graduate school and competitive scholarships and internships) or acting as a reference (often required for internships and permanent positions). When choosing which faculty to ask, keep in mind that the more positive experiences we have with your hard work, attitude, and success the stronger the letter or reference we can provide. These experiences come through classes, advising, volunteering, incidental encounters, etc. Once I agree to write a letter or act as a reference for you, I will need a completed copy of this form, preferably emailed as a scanned image, PDF preferred, with your written signature.

Letters of Recommendation

A good letter of recommendation takes 1-2 hours to write and submit, but I will make every effort to help you when you need one. To allow planning, I request at least 3 weeks of lead time, but I understand occasionally you are given shorter deadlines; I will attempt to accommodate these situations. Letters for graduate school require special attention and depth, so I will often request that we meet to discuss your graduate school goals before I write a letter. After I agree to write a letter, please submit all of the following as appropriate via email:

It is traditional for letters of recommendation to be private between the author and the addressee. This encourages utmost candor, increasing the credibility of the letter. FERPA legislation makes such letters on behalf of students and alumni not subject to this traditional privacy. If your letter is addressed to an academic-affiliated institution (most are), you will be asked if you wish to waive your FERPA right in favor of tradition. Your decision is communicated to the writer. Please waive this right; I require it for all letters that I write.


The most common error students make is listing a reference before getting the referrer’s permission. Be sure to avoid this faux pas. Imagine how it makes you look when a faculty member gets a call from a potential employer and must answer, "I’m sorry but I can’t speak with you about him because he has not asked me to act as a reference."

A reference requires less preparation than a letter; while any of the items above are helpful, I only require lists of classes you have taken with me and of any volunteer activities, etc., with a focus on those I have firsthand knowledge of.

LinkedIn Recommendations, etc.

These are quite different from traditional recommendations in that they lack direction for a specific purpose and do not promote the candor and credibility of a direct, confidential recommendation. I generally do not provide them for these reasons. I am glad to consider exceptions if you are working in an industry, etc., where the norms differ. Such requests should be made via direct email or in person, not by using an online tool to send a boilerplate request.