Requests for recommendations
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- Get to know professors you may need to call on later for
evaluation. Speak up as an individual in their classes, and pursue topics
with them outside of class. If they only know you as a face in the crowd,
they will have little to say about you except to cite your grades and speculate.
- Request recommendations well in advance of application deadlines.
Faculty are busy and such letters and forms require a considerable block of
time for careful thought, phrasing, and rephrasing. A note dashed off right
before the deadline ("Nice student. Came to class. Smart. Seems fine. Gotta
rush to a meeting now. Yours truly.") is absolutely worthless to you
and may even come across as a negative endorsement.
- Make sure that you have filled in all sections
of the form that you're supposed to do first.
- It is helpful to include with your request a sheet with
your name, phone, email, classes you had the professor in (memories fade over
time), deadline, address to send it to (or other arrangements), and your reasons
for applying to the program. A letter that the professor has customized for
its intended purpose and recipient is better than a generic one.
- At first, you may only see the need for one letter for a
single application you have in mind; then, later, you may need more for additional
applications, and the recommender may not be able to comply with more letters
as fast as you like. Anticipate this situation by setting up a file at your
local placement service (e.g. at the university); that way, your recommender
only has to write one letter which then goes out with your dossier every time
you request it from the placement service.
- As you change over time, a past recommendation
tends to lose its usefulness. If a prospective employer wants to know what
you're like now, a letter from someone you studied with a decade ago
is likely to be judged as irrelevant.
- You are of course free to mark on an application or recommendation
form the options "Waive" or "Do not waive" for your rights to see the letter
later. But, readers/evaluators know that if "Do not waive" is
marked and that you have seen or will see the letter, the writer may have
withheld crucial information instead of giving an honest appraisal of all
aspects. The same is true of a letter that is handed to the applicant instead
of being sent directly to the person who is to read it. If you do not trust
your recommenders to describe you (warts and all) in a generally favorable
but confidential way, simply do not ask them!