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- Last modified 6 October 2014
- Original version by Samuel A. Rebelsky on 3 November 1997 (newly arrived
- Based on an earlier version by Samuel A. Rebelsky (used at Dartmouth)
- Based on an earlier version by Freda Rebelsky (used at BU)
Note: If you ask me to write you a letter of recommendation
or to serve as a reference, you are implicitly granting me permission to
talk to people about your grades and academic performance.
I've found that a surprising number of students ask me to write letters of
recommendation or to serve as a reference for them, even though they may
have only taken one course with me, and that may have been an introductory
or very large course. (At Grinnell, I don't have really large courses,
but at Dartmouth some courses had more than ninety students.) In order
to write the strongest possible letter of recommendation or successfully
discuss a student with a recruiter, I find that it helps if my students
provide me with the following information.
- You need not provide all of the information I've asked for,
nor write long essays. However, the more information you give me,
the better a letter I can write.
- It helps if you provide most of this information, even if you're
only asking me to serve as a reference.
- If you can't be bothered to spend the thirty minutes responding to
this form, I'm not sure why you should expect me to spend hours
writing letters of reference or preparing for and conducting phone
conversations. [Sorry if that seems harsh, but it's much harder to
write letters or serve as a phone reference without this info.]
- Since I work in a Linux system, I'd appreciate it if you'd send me
a plain text file. HTML is also okay. PDF is okay.
Please don't send me Word files. Please don't send me LibreOffice
or OpenOffice files. If you print out your answers, make sure that
- We've been told that thinking about these topics in advance helps students
write better letters and interview better.
- Make sure to speak well of yourself; if you do not think that you are
good and deserving of the position for which you are applying, how can
anyone else? If you have trouble saying good things about yourself,
sit down with a close friend and have that friend help you.
Your note should include:
- Your name and current address.
- The current date.
- A transcript or list of grades. It need not be complete
and certainly doesn't have to be registered.
- An autobiography or statement, if you've written one.
- A list of places and addresses to which I should send letters.
[This list is not needed for phone references.]
I consider it important that I address each letter, and if you don't
provide these addresses, I need to spend time looking them up.
I do not need pre-addressed envelopes; in
most cases, I'd rather use department stationary.
- The deadline for each letter. [Not needed for references.]
I tend to let deadlines slip, so please remind me a few days before
and after the deadline! If I haven't told you that I've sent the letters,
- The type of recommendation (school, job, general file, ...).
If you're me to serve as a phone or email reference, some warning about
the kinds of jobs you're looking for would be helpful.
- The basis of our contact
- Formal courses (include title, grade, special aspects of your performance)
- Independent study
- Teaching assistant
- Informal contact
- Why you've asked me to recommend you. This response can be
as simple as
The only A I ever received was in your class
The position wants evidence of computer expertise. If you
did particularly interesting things in my classes, please remind me
of them because my memory isn't what it used to be.
- Academic achievements. Tell me about your grades (GPA), major,
strengths and weaknesses. Suggest how your academic background has
prepared you for the position for which I'm recommending you.
Include anything special or unique about your academic background.
- Nonacademic background. Tell me about your jobs, hobbies, sports,
community work, political or social involvements, travel, etc.
- Primary personal/social traits. Please list five. If you
can't describe yourself, think about how would a friend would
describe you or ask friends to describe you.
- Primary academic/work traits. Please list five. If you can't
describe yourself, think about how a colleague or professor would
- Answers to the following questions
- What would you like to be doing with your life in ten years?
- If you get the position that you're applying for, and it turns
out to be harder or less satisfying than you expected, what will
- If you don't get anything you apply for, what will you do?
The final questions I took verbatim from Freda's form. While they
are a little odd, we've found the answers students give are often
both useful and enlightening.
- What about your emotional stability and maturity?
- What about your character?
- What else should I know about you?
Copyright © 2017 Samuel A. Rebelsky.
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