Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

I am happy to discuss writing a letter of recommendation with any student who has successfully completed a course with me. However, students interested in requesting a letter of recommendation need to be aware of the following issues before contacting me about the letter:

1) I will only write letters that are confidential and where students have signed whatever release is required to maintain that confidentiality. I will also only mail letters to schools/organizations, not to individual students. This is a blanket policy designed to protect the integrity of recommendation letters, not the content of any particular letter.

2) Students should consider whether I am the best person to write a letter for them. Considerations in reaching this determination include:

-How much contact has the student had with me (i.e., multiple courses, spoken with me in office hours, completed an independent research project with me, etc.)? If you have not had that much contact with me, there are only so many things I can write about; a student in this situation may want to locate an instructor with whom they have had more contact.

-Will a letter of recommendation from a Sociology faculty member help the student's application? If a student is applying to graduate school in Sociology, then a letter from a faculty member in Sociology will be very important. However, if the student is applying to a Physics program, to certain types of business schools, etc. then a letter from a Sociology faculty member may only be marginally helpful. Consider this before requesting a letter.

-How well did the student perform in course(s) taken with me? Instructions for letters of recommendation almost always request that writers comment on the relative achievement of students (i.e., "Student X scored in the top 5% of the final grades..."). If you did not perform well, or at least well relative to others in the course, you may want to request a letter from an instructor who taught a course where you did score and perform well.

3) The student should come and speak with me in my office hours, provided that they satisfy the first requirement and, after having considered the second issue, still would like to request a letter from me. At our meeting in office hours, we will discuss (a) whether or not I am willing to write a letter; (b) whether I can write the letter in the timeframe available (meaning short notice requests may be difficult to meet); and (c) whatever details about a student's interests and prior achievements are necessary for writing a letter, provided that I have agreed to write the letter.

4) Students should bring with them all of the materials listed below:

- a statement of purpose describing what they applying for and why they think they are a competitive candidate;

- an unofficial transcript;

- any information they think may be relevant about what they are applying for;

- a resume or c.v.; and

- any other material they think may help me write a letter.