Letters of recommendation

Will I write you a good recommendation?

I am happy to write letters of recommendations for students that I know well: strong letters are based on detailed evidence. Usually this means that you have interacted with me in some way other than just showing up to class—for example, you may have taken multiple undergrad classes with me, taken a graduate seminar, worked in my lab, or made frequent visits to my office hours. This is not because I will otherwise write you a negative letter, but rather because the letter would be brief and superficial. Admissions committees can spot such letters a mile away, and they will do you more harm than good. If I am not able to write you a strong letter, I will let you know up-front.

How and when to ask for a recommendation

If you think I'd be a good choice to write a letter for you given the criteria above, please email me the following items at least one month before the earliest deadline. If you ask after that point, I cannot guarantee that I will be able to submit a letter for you on time. (While some people feel recommendations should always be asked for in person, I am happy to respond to requests via email.)

  1. A brief description of what you'll be applying for (e.g., PhD programs in linguistics, industry jobs, or law school)
  2. A short paragraph describing why I'm a good choice to write a letter for you
  3. A list of classes you've taken with me, along with the semesters and your final grade
  4. Your resume/CV
  5. The earliest due date among your applications

Once I receive that information, I'll let you know whether I think I'd be a good choice to write a letter for you.

What I'll need to write for you

Once I've agreed to write a letter, I'll need some additional information in order to make a strong case for you. Send me the following materials at least 3 weeks in advance of the earliest deadline:

Information about where you're applying:

  1. A list of all schools/programs you are applying to (be specific—e.g., "University of Antarctica Ph.D. program in linguistics")
  2. Due dates for all applications
  3. How should recommendations should be submitted for each application? (email address? website? snail mail address? will they phone me?)? Are there any additional instructions for the content of the letter (e.g. to whom it should be addressed, page limits, etc)?
  4. For each application, whether there is a form that needs to be filled out in addition to the letter
  5. If the program has one, a list of criteria being used for selection (this is more common with grants and fellowships than with graduate school applications)
  6. Why some program is a particularly good fit for you and your future career plans

Information about you:

  1. What are you major(s)/minor(s)/areas of emphasis?
  2. What are your long term goals, and how do the programs/jobs you're applying to fit in with this plan?
  3. All documents you plan to submit as part of your application, especially your CV/resume and personal statement (it's ok if these are just drafts).
  4. If you took classes with me, please list the courses, semesters and grades, and include a copy of one or more papers or assignments that you are proud of, preferably with my comments on them.
  5. Anything else that might help me write a detailed, personal letter. This might include:
    • An anecdote you remember from class that shows you in a positive light
    • Transcripts
    • A list of key points you would like stressed in the letter (subject to my approval!)
    • Some other piece of evidence that I can include in my letter
  6. What name and pronouns you'd like me to use in the letter. Do you prefer that I use your first name, or something like "Mr. Smith" or "Mx. Jacobs"?

Optional information to help me brag about you:

  1. Have you won any awards, prizes, scholarships, or fellowships?
  2. What do you do outside of school? Hobbies? A job? Anything you've been particularly successful at?
  3. Do you have other relevant skills (e.g., programming, language fluency, artistic ability, etc)?
  4. Are there any extenuating circumstances I should address in my letter? (E.g., you got poor grades one semester because you were very sick.)

Following up

I will let you know when I submit your letter(s). If a deadline is approaching (say, 5–7 days away) and you haven't gotten a confirmation message from me, feel free to email me a reminder.

My contact information for forms

Most schools will ask you for several ways to contact me. The following usually covers all the bases.

Name: Aaron Braver
Title: Associate Professor and Director of Linguistics
Address: Texas Tech University Department of English
P.O. Box 43091
Lubbock, TX 79409-3091
Phone: (806) 834-7127
Fax: (806) 742-0989
Email: aaron.braver@ttu.edu

Waive your right to view my letter

Many forms ask you to check a box to waive your right to view my letter. This is to ensure that the admissions committee receives a confidential, frank, and honest assessment. Letters that aren't confidential carry less weight, so I recommend you waive your right to view my letter. Rest assured that I will not write a negative letter without first discussing it with you.

Let me know what happened

I always like to hear whether students were accepted into whatever program they applied for. Please let me know if you got what you were hoping for!

(Some content adapted from Will Styler's letter of recommendation guide)