Letters of Recommendation

How to Get a Good Letter from Someone

There's no formula for getting a good recommendation. It should go without saying that you have to impress a recommender with your intelligence, hard-work, and good attitude. You also want to know a recommender well enough that they feel comfortable writing you a recommendation. This is especially important so they can write some personal anecdotes about you.

How do you get into such a position? Well, doing what you should already be doing: working hard and doing well in your classes, asking questions and showing an interest in those classes, doing research and working closely with a faculty member.

One thing to consider is that in large classes (here at Barry, that's 20+ students—really, quite a good number), it's harder to distinguish yourself. Honestly, it's not that hard at Barry given our small class sizes, but 20 students is still twice as many as 10. So, consider taking a small class (that's fewer than 15 students) some time before you need a recommendation. (If you're a pre-med, then take one your junior year—don't leave them all until your senior year.) You can make a much better impression and get a better rec in this situation. (And your education can also be more fun that way.)

Also, you should be doing research, Research, RESEARCH!!! Research is important to your career for so many different reasons that a good letter by itself is kind of a silly reason to consider doing research, but it is one of the benefits. And remember, the earlier you start the better.Start research your freshman year. Trust me, you'll be much better off.

Getting a Letter from Me

If you would like a recommendation from me, please read the following and consider whether or not you should ask for one. This information is just meant to be helpful and save us all time. It is NOT meant to scare you off. If after reading this you are still not sure if you should ask me or you still wonder whom you should ask, then please do ask!

I also mean this page as an information source for beginning students who might not know what letters of rec involve. Good letters of recommendation are needed for scholarships and entry into grad school, med school, etc. And letters take a long time, so while faculty are generally happy to help with letters of rec, they also want to see that you are taking this seriously and doing your fair share. Remember, there is no rule that someone has to write you a letter.

Consider the thoughts below when you are thinking about whom to ask for a recommendation, but also consider them well before you need to ask for one. Even if you are a freshman and 3 years away from needing a recommendation, you should put yourself into a position to get a good one. That is, take a science class with low enrollment so you can stand out more easily and get to know a professor better. Do research (a great way to get a great rec). Be friendly with the faculty. Don't be fake, but treat the faculty like human beings not some person whose job is to show up and lecture at you 3 hours a week. You don't have to do all of this your 1st year, but work it into your long-term plans. (But you should always treat the faculty like human beings!)

Should You Ask Me for a Recommendation?

Are you better off asking someone else? Essentially, you need to consider what kind of a recommendation I will write and weigh that against the kind of recommendation someone else would write. These questions should help you decide.

1. How well did you do in my course(s)? Did you get at least a B? If you didn't get at least a B, then it's really hard to write you a recommendation! Were there mitigating circumstances? Well, maybe that will make the difference. But if you didn't get at least a B, you should consider asking someone in whose class you got a B or better.

2. How well do I know you? If disappeared in class and never participated, and I don't really know you, well I can write a nice recommendation for you, but it won't be great. I won't be able to say much other than your grade and rank in class. I could highlight your accomplishments outside of class, but anyone else can do that.

What really helps with letters of rec is a personal relationship. Really knowing someone and being able to relate some anecdotes is important. I'm not saying that you need to hang out! I just mean that being able to write something specific about you related to your abilities or personality really makes a letter go over well. If you were just another face-in-the-crowd, then that will be pretty difficult to do. If I don't really know you, consider asking someone who does, especially from a smaller class where you got to interact more often with the instructor or from a research mentor.

3. Is there enough time? I need at least 2 weeks to write a good letter of rec from the date I agree to write it.

If You Decide To Ask Me for a Recommendation

Please do the following:

1. Send me an email to ask. Make sure you include this file completely filled out. Rename the file with your last name in the file name (e.g., Smith questionnaire.doc).

This is not a guarantee I will write you a rec! This will help me decide whether or not to write one.

2. Arrange a meeting with me to discuss your recommendation. At this point I will determine whether or not to write it for you.

3. If I agree to write you a rec, follow the directions in the info sheet and here:

a. If these are hard copy letters, send me self-addressed and stamped envelopes for each recommendation. Make sure you include my return address on the envelope, too:

Michael Robinson
Dept. Biology
Barry University
Miami Shores FL 33161 USA

b. If this is an online recommendation, use the above plus the following to fill in any information that the site requests for me:
title: Asst. Professor
phone: 305-899-4930

4. Make sure you give me at least 2 weeks to write it once I agree to (not once you request it).