Letters of Recommendation

Important things to know before asking me to write a letter of recommendation:

1. It is generally not necessary to meet with me to ask me to write a letter of recommendation for you. I encourage you to make requests for letters by email. If I feel I need more information, then I will ask you to schedule a meeting with me at that time.

2. If this is the first time you are asking me to write a letter of recommendation, you should email me all the relevant information three weeks before the letter is due. Relevant information includes (1) information about the thing to which you are applying, including what they are looking for and where/how I am to submit the letter; (2) the deadline for submitting the letter, (3) a copy of your CV or resume or any other relevant information (grade card, test scores, etc); and (4) at least an early version of the essay or proposal that you are submitting in conjunction with my letter of recommendation. If you are asking me to write multiple letters, please email my assistant, Genevieve Butler (gbutler@g.harvard.edu) for a google spreadsheet letter of recommendation template. Once you have received this template, please fill it out ASAP and share it with me.

3. After I have written one letter of recommendation for you, then I need one week advanced notice to receive the materials outlined above for all additional letters. This is important. I generally tailor my letters to the specific thing for which you are applying, so if you don’t get me all the appropriate information FOR EACH LETTER, then you might get a letter that says “give Suzy funding for thesis study…” when what you really want is a letter saying “Suzy is the best choice for this leadership award for these reasons...” Again, if you are asking me to write multiple letters, please email my assistant, Genevieve Butler (gbutler@g.harvard.edu) for a google spreadsheet letter of recommendation template. Once you have received this template, please fill it out ASAP and share it with me.

4. Please think carefully about the kinds of things I can actually talk about before asking me to write your letter. Typically, I can write the strongest letters for students with whom I have worked with in some depth. For example, if I’ve had you in a small seminar, supervised an independent study or thesis, or collaborated with you on a research project, then I will have lots of good material for a letter. However, if all I can say about you is that you were in my 100+ person lecture course, and that you received good grades, then no matter how wonderfully you performed in that course, it would be very, very hard for me to write you a strong letter. If in doubt, you are welcome to ask, and I will tell you honestly whether I can write you a strong letter.

5. As a general rule, I do not give permission for anyone to excerpt parts of my letter in their own letter of recommendation, nor do I allow my letters to be put “on file” in houses.