User:Benjamin Mako Hill/Letters of recommendations

From CommunityData
Cmbox notice.png This page is written for undergraduate students interested in letters of recommendation. If you a graduate student who is interested in a letter of recommendation, please reach out to me directly.

"Will you write me a letter of recommendation?"[edit]

I am happy to write letters of recommendation for undergraduate students only if I am confident that I can write a strong letter that will help your application. This is to help you. If my letter is thin, lukewarm, or worse it not help and might even hurt your application. As a result, I typically only write letters if all of the following criteria are met:

You have taken and fully completed at least one class with me
If you are "current" student in one of my classes, I will not say “yes” to a request for a letter until after the quarter is over and grades are finalized. If you have taken an independent study, done an honors thesis, or participated in directed research group with me and received full credit, that counts as a class and I'm almost always excited about providing letters for students in this situation.
I should have some sense of your skills, your work ethic, and your personality that goes beyond just the grade you received in my class
The point of letters is to provide something more than what's visible in the transcript. If the only thing my letter can say is "X took my class and did well. X's final grade was Y" (and so on), then the letter will provide very little additional benefit to your application. Ask yourself: Did you come to office hours? Did you volunteer to speak up in class frequently? Did you find other ways to leave an impression on me that might be something I could talk about it in a letter? If the answer is "No", any letter I provide will be thin and you will very likely be better served by a letter from someone else who can provide that kind of depth and texture that letter readers are looking for. If the course you took was a large lecture class where the TA likely did much of the grading, this is particularly important.
You have given me at least two weeks advance notice
In general, I cannot provide a letter with less lead time than this. Certainly not a strong one. When you ask for a letter, please tell me what the first deadline is. Mastesr programs typically have deadlines that not earlier than January 1st so I tend to try and do all of these letters during the winter "break" when I have a bit more availability.
You did well in my classes
If the only way that I know is through a single class, my letter is going to be limited to describing your work in the class. I'll explain what grade you received and I'll compare it to your classmates. As a result, a good rule-of-thumb is that you should only ask me for a letter for graduate school applications if you have earned at least a grade of 3.7 in one of my classes (ideally higher) or at least a 3.3 for an application for a job. Sometimes, I can write a stronger letter than your grade in my class might suggest so this is not a hard-and-fast rule but it is a good heuristic.
You will agree to waive your right to examine your letter
My letter will be an honest accounting of my assessment of your ability to succeed in graduate or in a job you are applying to. Knowing that my letter was shared in private helps the person I am submitting the letter to be confident that I am being honest.

"What do you need from me?"[edit]

Full disclosure: It takes me 1-3 hours to produce a letter for a single program and about 10-15 minutes to customize the letter for each additional program you apply to. I got where I am because lots of people wrote letters for me and I'm happy to do this to help you out too! Writing a strong letter is joy and I love doing it. That said, there are a number of things you can do to make this process as fast and smooth and possible:

  • The first deadline — this is the most important thing for me to know because it is the time I must write a letter by.
  • Provide me a detailed list of the positions you are applying for. One helpful approach many students do is to create a spreadsheet using Google Sheets with a row for every program/job you are applying to. I need at least the following information:
    • The program name / address to whom I should address my letter
    • Information on how I will submit the letter (almost always online these days; sometimes program will only request the letter themselves if you make onto a shortlist)
    • The deadline for each specific program
    • A link to website the program you are applying to so I can know what sort of program you are applying to.
    • Notes about anything you would like me to emphasize in my letter (e.g., skills or background you know they are looking for).
    • Anything else I need to know (e.g., is there a page limit or word limit for letters?)
    • A final quick note: if you ensure that I have editing access to the sheet, I will create a column and mark things as done as I submit them.
  • Please ensure that you only request letters from me for programs or places you are actually going to apply. For example, make sure that you that satisfy any prerequisite requirements. It's OK to start with a broad list but please narrow things down before the first deadline or let me know that you are still unsure about applying to a particular program (e.g., by marking things clearly in your sheet).
  • Typically, application websites will create submission URLs once you start your application and enter your recommenders information. Please do this for all programs you are applying to before the first deadline. This way, I can submit all my letters at the same time I produce the first one. This is more efficient for me and it's useful for you too since it means that all my letters will be finalized as soon as the first one is.
  • Please provide me with as much contextual information about yourself as you can. A draft of a statement of purpose, your current resumé or CV, your academic transcript, papers you have published, lists of your hopes and dreams, and so on, are all really helpful for me!

"I need some information from you for the application."[edit]

Information you will typically need from me:

Given (First) Name
Benjamin Mako
Family (Last) Name
Assistant Professor
University of Washington
(+1) 206-409-7191
University of Washington / Dept. of Communication, Box 353740 / Seattle, WA, 98195

Credit for this page[edit]

Although I've mostly rewritten the text and changed this around a bit, I took inspiration for this page from Catherine Bolzendahl who was inpsired, in turn, by Nancy Kovens.