Thank you for reaching out to me about a letter of recommendation! I’ve put this page together so that you’ll know all of the information you need to get the best possible letter.

When applying for graduate school, scholarships, or study abroad, institutions require the recommending faculty member to certify their identity and upload letters directly to the application system or dossier management program. 

In general, letters from me will be most effective when relevant to either undergraduate study (scholarships, study abroad, etc.) or, for graduate school, one of my professional areas of expertise: English literature, humanities, and composition. (Law school is broadly considered as a humanities discipline, so that counts!)

In order to write the strongest possible letter, I will need a few things from you when you request the letter, at least three weeks prior to the letter’s due date:

  1. The name of the program, the letter’s due date, and any additional information you have about the letter’s requirements. Because letters take time and multiple drafts (which I need to schedule on my calendar), I will not be able to commit to writing a letter before knowing its due date and confirming that I have the availability.
  2. A copy (a draft is completely fine) of your personal or purpose statement for the program to which you’re applying, if applicable.
  3. A list of each of the classes you’ve taken from me, the term in which you took/completed them, and titles and brief description of your projects and essays from each class (if you wrote argumentative papers, please include your thesis statement for each essay you wrote!). Remember, a strong letter is more than general appraisals of your work, so this groundwork helps me help you make the best possible impression to the selection committee.

When applying to graduate school, students sometimes ask about whether they should choose to waive their rights to access LOR files. This is a completely individual decision, but in general, a strong letter in which the student has waived their access rights weighs more favorably to graduate committees than a letter in which the student has maintained access. This is because they assume faculty will write with more candor in a confidential letter, and that your waiver of access is an expression of trust in your faculty and your past performance. Rest assured that if I agree to write for you, it means that I am able write you a strong letter that will help your application. Similarly, with scholarship letters, committees tend to take confidential letters more seriously than open letters, so that is my default unless we’ve discussed another plan.

Like most faculty, if I cannot write you a strong letter of recommendation, I will decline to write the letter. Most students prefer to be told this honestly, so that they can pursue a strong letter from another faculty member. There are a few reasons a faculty member may be unable to write a strong letter of recommendation, including:

  • Not having enough information about or experience working directly with you to write a strong letter.
  • Not having enough notice/time to write a strong letter (I require a minimum of three weeks, but occasionally could need longer during busier times (like the ends of terms, or if I have already committed to several letters with similar due dates, which can sometimes happen especially as spring quarter approaches).
  • Not feeling comfortable writing a strong letter based upon your class performance, participation, or professionalism. Remember, a letter-writer puts their reputation on the line when writing for students.
  • Not having a good expertise “fit” with a graduate-level program being pursued (i.e., some graduate programs really need a strong letter from a faculty member with more relevant expertise in the area in order to be competitive, so sometimes I will tell you this in order to ensure you will be competitive).

If you are a PSU M.A. student considering applying to PhD programs in English and would like a guide of what to consider, please check out this resource.