I am often asked to write letters of recommendation for current and
former students. That is fine, and indeed I consider it to be part
of my job. However, I do ask that students requesting recommendations
from me follow the instructions and principles described herein.
Thank you, and good luck with your applications.
I can only write you a recommendation if I know you reasonably well,
e.g. I taught you in a class or supervised you on a project. Please
do not ask me for a recommendation if I do not know you well.
- If you want me to write you a recommendation, then please first
ask me (by e-mail is fine) -- including
telling me your name and student number, reminding me how we know each
other (a photo might help) and related info (e.g. did you attend all of my
lectures when you took my class? where did you sit?), sending me your full
academic transcript(s), telling me how many schools you will apply to with
what deadlines, and telling me if I have written recommendations letters
for you before. I reserve the right to decline your request, especially
since I am now getting so many requests from so many students.
- If I agree, then I prefer to have at least a few
weeks (after receiving all the materials described
below) to write your recommendation. I may bend this requirement a
little, but the earlier you ask me, the better.
- In the event that you require multiple recommendations (e.g. for
multiple institutions, or multiple scholarships), be sure to inform me
of this with your initial request, and to provide information about
all of the recommendations together. (It is much easier for me to
write multiple recommendations all at once.)
- Except in very special circumstances, I will write only
confidential letters of recommendation, not open letters,
since it is impossible to be honest and unbiased in a non-confidential
letter. So, please assist me in maintaining confidentiality by
waiving your right with universities to examine your
recommendation letters, and by arranging for me to send my recommendations
directly to the institutions (either by web, or by e-mail, or by hardcopy)
rather than giving them to you.
If I agree to write you a recommendation, then please supply me with
the following materials:
Either put hardcopies of all of the above materials into a
single large-sized envelope (with your name
written on the outside) and give it to me, OR
you may e-mail me the materials
(preferably with easily-identifiable filenames without
spaces, e.g. "MaryJaneTranscript.pdf") all in a single
e-mail, hopefully in plain text or postscript or pdf format
(not Microsoft Word format nor as a spreadsheet).
- A clear list of the place(s) to which you are applying,
and the deadline(s) by which I must complete the recommendation(s), and
whether my recommendation should be web-based, or by e-mail (provide
the e-mail address), or by hardcopy (provide addressed envelopes for
me to use; you do not need to provide postage stamps).
- Any special recommendation "instructions" which were
provided by the school/job to which you are applying.
- Up-to-date copies of all of your university transcripts. To
repeat: ALL, not just the most recent ones. (An
unofficial copy is okay. Make sure it includes your NAME. For UofT,
please use the usual "Complete Academic History" version.) This should
also include a list of all courses that you are currently taking.
- A copy of whatever other relevant information you have about
yourself, such as a C.V. and/or a "Statement of Research Plans"
and/or your GRE scores and/or the parts of the application that you
have already prepared about yourself. (You do not need to prepare
any additional written materials just for me, but you should give me
whatever you already have. Preliminary drafts are okay.)
- Your e-mail address and phone number, in case I need to ask you
- For schools using web-based applications, you should then list me as
a reference in your application so that I will hopefully receive an
automatic e-mail (at the address firstname.lastname@example.org)
requesting my recommendation.
(Be sure to waive your right to examine the recommendation; see above.)
- Once you have completed all of the above, and
everything is all ready for me to go ahead and complete
all of your recommendations at once, including
registering me for all of the web-based applications,
then please e-mail me again to inform me of this, by saying explicitly
that "Everything is all ready to go". In your e-mail,
please also remind me when is your earliest application deadline
(hopefully at least a few weeks later).
- I will then probably arrange to meet with you
(perhaps by video chat), and
right after our meeting I will complete all of your recommendations, all
(So, it is very important that all of your
recommendations are ready to go before we meet -- I will not write
multiple recommendations for you at different times.)
- If any of the above is not clear, then you may
e-mail me for clarification.
- Note: I usually shred confidential documents and delete large
attachments once I am through with them. So, if you require new
recommendations in a later year, then please repeat the above procedure in
- Final note: Please do not give me any "gift" to
thank me for completing your recommendations. I appreciate the thought,
but it is not appropriate. You are welcome to write me a thank-you e-mail
or card if you wish, but please do not give me any item that costs any
-- Jeffrey S. Rosenthal