August 08, 2017

Updating my questions to students asking for letters of recommendation

This is not an original idea of mine, but I wanted to share what my process is for writing letters of recommendation for students. When a student asks for a letter, I send them a standard set of questions to fill out so that I can write the best letter possible. For many students, I don't need extra information, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that students I thought I knew well had additional things I could write about which I learned about through this process.

I'm sure that I stole the basic list of questions that I ask students to answer to help me jumpstart my letter writing process - but I can't seem to remember who I stole it from. If you're out there, let me know - and THANK YOU.

This year I'm explicitly putting in the top two required questions so that I can have a much better handle on the letter requests. Last year there were some letters that I sent way too late because I wasn't aware of the deadlines and I had assumed (mistakenly) that the students asking for the letters would at a minimum inform me of the deadlines.

This is the standard text I send to the student asking for a letter:

The following two questions are required, and I need to hear back on them as soon as possible:
 When does this letter need to be submitted?  (In other words, what is my deadline?)
 What is the method of delivery of the letter?  I need a web link, or email address, or a postal address to send the letter to.  I cannot hand the letter to you in most cases.
 The following questions are not required, but will be helpful to me in best writing a letter for you. Answer as many as you think are relevant:
 1.)  What do you think you have demonstrated in my classes that I should praise? (Think about your contributions/performance during class/lab – how did your contributions make the class community better?)
2.)  How have you demonstrated independence, initiative, responsibility and maturity in my class?
3.)  What is your intended field of study or work? What is your experience in your intended field? (Classes/workshops/jobs have you had related to what you are trying to go into?)
4.)  Was anything in my class or classes particularly challenging or eye-opening?
5.)  What was your favorite topic/chapter/unit/project that we did or discussed in class? Why?
6.)  Is there anything specific that you want me to address in my letter?

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