Many students ask me for letters of recommendation for graduate school, study abroad programs, internships, and scholarship opportunities. I’m happy to do this and I enjoy writing letters for excellent students. As my students might assume, "excellent" comes in many shapes and forms. An excellent student is rarely one who just earns good grades. Additionally, preparing a good reference letter takes time, thought, and preparation. This page is intended to help my students do a couple of things:
Cultivate some self-reflection on whether I (Dr. Wallace) will be a good fit reference for you and the purpose for my which my letter will serve.
Provide some initial advice on what key information I need from students to prepare an effective reference letter.
And serve as a 'central hub' for documenting key information or resources necessary for me to serve as an effective reference
Are we a good fit?
REFLECTION THREAD #1: My ability to provide detailed and concrete perspective. A good recommendation letter will have vivid details. In order for me to write a very good letter, I need to have examples of demonstrated excellence.
Please tell me at least two examples of your demonstrated excellence in the classroom. For example, describe a class discussion that you led. Or explain how a paper for my class opened your eyes to a particular research area.
Then please tell me how many times we met in office hours and any examples of demonstrated excellence from those office hour conversations.
For email automated employment reference requests, there are many questions that I have to answer about you. Almost all applications ask me to compare you to all other students that I’ve taught over the years. Others are very specific: “Describe a specific situation where you have observed the applicant using critical thinking skills or applied a new skill” or “How would you describe the applicant’s leadership skills?” or “Rate this student’s originality and intellectual creativity" or "How would you characterize the applicant's pedagogical practice?"
If I don’t know you well enough to speak to these questions, you probably should find someone who does to write a letter for you.
Tell me the exact questions that recommenders are asked to answer. I may ask you to draft answers for these.
Lastly, have I read your writing? I will certainly be asked about your writing ability. For graduate school recommendation letters, I need to have read at least 5 pages of your individual original writing.
REFLECTION THREAD #2: My experience observing the applicant 'in action'.
How big was the class? If it was more than 25-30 students, it is unlikely that I was able to glean deep nuanced insight into your practice as teacher or student.
Did you do well in the class? For example, did you turn in assignments on time, regularly contribute to meaningful class discussions, submit high quality work, articulate creative and thought-provoking questions (for me and/or your peers to engage)?
What do you want me to add to application? Is there a unique perspective I can provide by serving as your reference? What makes my account of your skills and abilities different from all of the other references you aim to include in the application? How might my perspective connect to your goals with your application?
THINGS I WILL NEED
If you feel you were able to answer all of the questions above, then I'm probably a good fit for you! Here is what I will need to prepare an effective reference letter or form:
Advanced notice (Preferably at least 2 weeks notice)
If possible, a face-to-face or virtual meeting to discuss your application.
An email that includes the following details:
The term and year and the name of the course(s) you took with me.
If it has been more than a year since you took my course, please fill me in on what you’ve been doing since I last saw you.
Tell me why you’re applying to this particular program.
A copy of your resume and a copy of the essay or personal statement for the program you are applying to.
A link to the program you job description you are applying to.
*This reference request information was inspired by Dr. Kate Pearce.