Letters of Recommendation
Instructions for students seeking letters from Daniel V. Schroeder
Writing letters of recommendation is part of my job, and I’m usually happy to do it
upon request. But it can often be a complex and time-consuming task, so if you’d
like me to write you a letter, I ask that you follow these guidelines. Thanks!
- Make a good impression on me. Come to class, pay attention, ask questions,
take pride in your work, and try to get good grades. If I don’t know enough good things
about you to write a decent letter, I may decline.
- Talk with me in person about your upcoming application(s).
Stop by my office (SL 208) a few weeks before you need your first letter, sit down, and tell me what you’re
applying for and why. Is it a job? Graduate school? A summer internship? What will you
be doing there, if your application is successful? Why do you want to do this?
I am genuinely interested in your life goals, and chances are I’ll have questions that
will be much easier to ask and answer in a face-to-face conversation than by email.
(But feel free to use email to set up an appointment.) If for some reason it is impossible
for us to meet in person, then please use email to set up a time when we can speak on the phone.
- Prepare a packet of information that includes all of the following:
- A list of places where the letters are going, including the
exact name of each institution and department or program.
- The deadline for each of these places to receive my letter.
- The contact information for each place that needs to receive a letter.
This may be an email address, a web URL, a postal address, or a fax number.
If the letter should be addressed to a particular individual, please provide
that person’s name.
- A clear indication of how each letter is to be submitted (web form, email,
hard copy, or fax).
- A copy of your résumé or vita.
- A copy of whatever else you’re saying about yourself as part of your application(s).
Most applications ask for some sort of “personal statement” in which you
brag about yourself and explain why you’re applying. So please provide me with
a copy of that (a preliminary draft is fine). If your application doesn’t require such
a statement, you might want to prepare one anyway.
- Your W number, if you would like me to look up your transcript and write about
your academic work overall (rather than just what I know about you already).
- Any other information you think I should have. Is there something specific that
you would like me to mention in my letter? Is there a good explanation for
why you didn't get a better grade in a particular class? Would you like me to discuss
your qualifications with one or more of my colleagues, and incorporate what they say
into my letter? Would you like me to reread that brilliant final paper you turned in
two years ago?
- Get this packet to me at least two weeks before your first application
deadline. If that two-week period includes a major holiday or if you have reason to believe
that I might be traveling, allow an extra week. You may give me your packet either
electronically or in hard copy, but please do only one or the other, and provide it
all at once. Acceptable electronic formats include plain text, rich text,
HTML, and pdf. Please avoid MSWord and other specialized formats. Try to combine
small documents into larger ones if possible, and use understandable names for
- Notify me promptly about any changes to the information in your packet.
I fully understand that your plans may change, so that you may decide not to apply somewhere
or to add another application or two. I merely ask that you keep me well informed,
at least two weeks in advance of all relevant deadlines, and that you make a good-faith
effort to consolidate the information that you provide, rather than splitting it up into
multiple, fragmentary communications.
- Use email for any time-sensitive communications, especially when school isn’t
in session so I might not be checking my mailbox and voicemail regularly.
- Feel free to send follow-up reminders or inquiries, to make sure I've received
your information and sent letters by their deadlines.
- Behave in ways that will make it hard for me to write a positive letter.
- Wait until the last minute before asking me to write a letter.
- Assume that I will remember informal requests for letters.
- Send an excessive number of emails about the letters you need, providing information in
bits and pieces.
- Compose emails in an unprofessional way, as if they were text messages, omitting important
information and forcing me to respond with follow-up questions.