Letters of recommendation are more than part of my job description; I am happy to write them for students who have excelled in my class. Because of the large number of requests, I have prepared the following guidelines:
1) I generally only write recommendations for students who received at least a A- in my class. Because most institutions ask professors to rank students against all others they have taught, a student with a grade of B+ or lower will usually be better served by looking elsewhere for a recommendation. Furthermore, my letter will be much stronger if you have already completed my class, as I will have your final paper to consult; when necessary, however, I will write letters for students who are maintaining a A- or higher during the current semester.
2) Please try to ask at least a month in advance, although in special or urgent situations, I can work with less time. Ask as early in the semester as possible to avoid the onslaught of deadlines that everyone inevitably faces at the end of the term.
3) Provide copies of your papers with my markings on them, as well as your resume or CV. It is virtually impossible to write a good letter of recommendation without copies of your graded papers. Provide any other supporting material you feel would be helpful to me, although my letter will focus on your work in my class.
4) Because admissions committees generally disregard non-confidential letters, I only write letters for students who have waived their right of access.
5) If you are applying to many schools, it would help if you gave me a cover letter detailing any special instructions for how individual schools want to receive their letters. Most schools want these letters sent directly to them (my preference), but some want them sent back to you (signed on the seal). Make sure I am aware of these differences in your schools. Also be sure that you have filled out the student portion of the form entirely.
6) Tell me anything special or distinctive about each application you are completing. Let me know if there’s any special reasons for your choice of schools, or anything particular about one school’s program that interests you or that makes it unusually well suited to you. This information will make the letter more specific and therefore more effective.