Regarding Requests for Letters of Recommendation from Professor Hauptli:Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli
Generally speaking, students seeking letters of recommendation are advised to ask the two or three faculty members who know their work best--generally faculty members will not write letters for students unless they have had them in several classes. Students should not just assume that faculty members will agree to write a letter. Faculty members may not feel that they know the student's work well enough or they may not feel that they can honestly offer a sufficiently positive recommendation. If a faculty member declines, remember that it is better to have no letter of recommendation than to have a weak letter of recommendation.
Note that there is not really such a thing as a "generic recommendation." It makes a difference to the recommender what they are recommending the individual for--graduate school, employment, internship, scholarship, etc. Don't just assume the person you are asking for a letter knows what you are applying for, what sort of graduate program, employment, internship, scholarship, etc. is in play. Having to ask what the letter is for, or how to find out information about the program, job, scholarship, etc., interposes an additional chore upon the individual who you are asking to provide a recommendation. It may well be that the failure to provide the necessary information when making the request raises doubts in the mind of the faculty member as to whether it is appropriate to recommend the individual!
Where a faculty member does agree to write a letter of recommendation, the student should recognize that it takes time to respond to such requests and it is wise for the student to have provided the information necessary to ensure a good letter (a list of courses taken, student's background, personal statement, the student's other academic activities and interests, etc.). Faculty members may also request copies of papers and exams that the student wrote for their courses, so keep them in a safe place! It is a good idea to provide the faculty member with emails and phone numbers so that they can contact you if they have any questions as they write the letters.
Students should make sure they provide the recommender with any necessary forms (remembering to sign them), and clear directions regarding who the letters should be addressed to, and where they should be sent. While students may ask for either "open" or "confidential" letters of recommendation, they should recognize that the "open" ones are generally deeply discounted, and they should respect the confidentiality of the recommendation if they ask for such a letter.
I take requests for letters of recommendation very seriously. Only in exceptional cases that I will write a letter for a student I have had in only one class. In order to assess whether or not I can write a good letter for a student, and, thus, whether or not I will consent to write one, I need to know what the letter is to be used for (employment, graduate school, etc.). I retain my comments on student papers, so I will rarely ask for copies of your papers, but I do ask for a copy of your personal statement when I consent to write letters.
As I have retired students will need to contact me by email to request a letter, and they should indicate what they are applying for and when the letter is needed (requests should be made several weeks prior to any deadlines for letters). If there are forms which need to be filled out they will need to be mailed to me (and students should double check to ensure that they have signed such forms and included all the necessary information). recommend that students request "confidential" letters. My procedure with letters of recommendation is that I write a draft which I share by email with the individual (who I rely on to be my proofreader). If the letter is acceptable, I will send it (with any needed minor corrections) on to the appropriate individuals. Individuals should recognize that my procedure doesn’t impact their right or ability to check the appropriate box on forms waiving access to the recommendation letter. I am free to share my letters with those I recommend without their having to waive their right of access.
Of course I need to know where (and who) to send the letters to; and if there are forms which need to be filled out to accompany my recommendation I will need you to fill them out, sign them, and send them to me. As I have retired and no longer reside in Miami it is best to send requests and information to me by email. Sending material to, or leaving it at, the Philosophy Department will significantly delay the process.
I appreciate it when students let me know how the application process ends up.
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File revised on Thursday, July 16, 2015.