How to Write Powerful Letter of Recommendation
Many undergraduates ask
their GSIs for letters of recommendation. Undergraduates sometimes feel
more comfortable approaching a GSI than they would a faculty member.
Furthermore, GSIs for large lecture courses often have more individual
contact with undergraduates than faculty members do, and thus are often
in a better position to write a detailed letter of recommendation. So,
how do you write a good letter of recommendation?
Before You Write the
First, decide if you are
the best person to write the letter. A letter of recommendation from a
faculty member will carry more weight than a letter from a GSI. However,
GSIs often know students better than faculty members, and may be able to
write a more detailed, and thus more useful, letter. One solution may be
for the GSI to write the letter and have it co-signed by the faculty
Ask the student what
motivated him or her to ask you. Also ask if there are others that might
be asked. Sometimes, a student may be shy to ask someone else, and you
can reassure the student, or encourage the student to ask a professor.
Also, decide if you can
honestly recommend the student. If not, suggest that he/she consider
asking another person. For example, if you feel that you cannot honestly
recommend the student, or you feel that you cannot do so wholeheartedly,
you may wish to suggest to the student that someone else might be in a
better position to write the recommendation letter.
Discuss with the student
the institution, program, or field of study to which he or she is
applying. This will help you to decide whether you can recommend the
student and give you a greater sense of what to include in or exclude
from the letter. Your letter should point out how the student's
particular strengths fit well with the chosen discipline.
Ask the student for a list
of paperwork that must be completed by you together with a list of dates
and addresses. If the student is applying to more than one institution,
ask for all the materials for different institutions in different
envelopes or folders. Check that the student has signed any relevant
waivers or other forms. In addition, check that the student has provided
a stamped addressed envelope in which to place each completed
Request copies of papers or
exams that the student has submitted in your course to help you recall
the details of their work. It is extremely important to give specific
examples to back up your more general claims. This is easier to do if
you have copies of past work in front of you when you are writing the
letter. It is also helpful to check the grade records, if they are
available, as many recommendation forms ask you to state the student's
position in the class (for example, in the top 5%, 10%, etc.).