Tips for requesting letters of recommendation
We are pleased to write letters for students, and there are a few important steps you can take to facilitate the process:
1. Fill out our online request for letters of recommendation (links appear at the end of these instructions). Here you will answer questions regarding the type of program you are applying to, the due date for the letter of recommendation, whether the letter will be submitted online or via a paper form, and a bit about the program and why you are particularly qualified for the position. Keep in mind that if you want letters from two of us, you must fill out the request form twice.
2. Be sure to allow us plenty of time to write the recommendation. Two to three weeks is the minimum recommended time. We may not be able to fulfill your request if you provide less advanced notice. We spend quite a bit of time drafting careful letters that reflect your performance, skills, and fit for the position to which you are applying – you want to make sure we have the time to do this well.
Note: if you are applying online, often we will not get a request to submit your letter until AFTER you have either begun or completed your own application. This needs to be done at least a week in advance, so that we have the opportunity to see what the program is looking for to properly craft our letter.
3. Be thoughtful about the number of programs/research opportunities/positions you are applying for, and the types of opportunities you apply to. This is not to discourage you from trying to find the right position for you, but rather to get you to think seriously about your interests, skills, and commitment. For example, it is reasonable to apply to 3-4 REU programs between your junior and senior year. It is unlikely (although not unheard of) to be admitted to these programs prior to this. Applying to 10 REU’s suggests to us that you are not particularly passionate about one area of research. If you have questions about what is appropriate for you to apply for, and what opportunities exist, feel free to make an appointment to talk with one of us! Other excellent resources include the Internship Office and the Career Development Center on campus.
4. If there are forms, either print or pdfs, fill out as much of them as you can. For paper forms, write in plain, neat, block, black-ink.
5. Update us. If it’s been a while since we’ve been in good contact, email us your resume and a brief writeup as to what you’ve been doing since last we were in good touch.
6. Once you hear from your schools or programs, tell us how you fared! We have two reasons for this. We are thrilled to hear good news and glad to commiserate where things do not work out. Getting detailed feedback of our students’ experiences helps us in advising future rounds of students. Your experiences will serve many future Mac alums!
Note: We are going to write letters based not only on our experience with you as a student in class, but also on our observations of you in the department. How do you interact with other students and faculty? What role do you play in the department? in group projects? How do you behave in the field, during department seminars, and with your peers? If an experience was not entirely positive, be aware that a letter may include critical comments or include a discussion of that experience. If you have questions about this, be sure to discuss it with the professor when making the request.
WAIVE OR NOT WAIVE ISSUE: Many recommendation forms include a section that describes your rights to see the content of the recommendation should you be accepted into the program. You may either WAIVE that right (thereby allowing the content of the recommendation to remain unknown to you), or NOT WAIVE that right (thereby allowing you to read the recommendation when you arrive at graduate school).
The choice to waive or not waive your right to see the recommendation is yours. The forms usually say that the letters are treated similarly in either case. It is our experience, however, that the readers of these letters might think that your recommender gave a more honest appraisal of you if he or she knew you would not ultimately read it. While the choice is yours, we prefer that you WAIVE your right to see your letter. BE SURE TO CHECK WHICHEVER BOX YOU WANT TO AND THEN SIGN.