Guidance on Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

I consider it a privilege to write letters of recommendation for my students.

General Guidance

  • It is wise to seek recommendations from professors who know you well and can credibly provide an assessment of your skills and character. If I don’t fit that description, or feel that I cannot provide a suitably positive reference, I will encourage you to approach other members of the faculty for a recommendation.

  • I prefer that you provide me the relevant materials at least two weeks in advance of the deadline, though I am willing to consider requests with shorter timetables.

  • If I have agreed to write you a recommendation, please send me an email that includes:
    • a brief description of the position or fellowship to which you are applying, and what they are seeking from recommenders
    • the relevant forms
    • the deadline and preferred method of submission
    • your current CV
    • a list of any other relevant activities that you have been involved in that are not listed on your CV, or warrant further explanation
    • a transcript (official or unofficial)
    • copies of papers or memos that you wrote for my course(s)
    • any other writing samples that you wish to include
    • a list of the other recommenders you have asked or intend to ask
    • 5-8 points that you would like me to emphasize in the letter

  • If the recommendation requires submission of hard copies, please provide me with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes

Special Cases

  • Competitive Positions or Fellowships. If you are applying to a position or a fellowship that is highly competitive, it is especially important that I be able to write a letter of recommendation in which I can speak in suitably glowing terms about your academic skills. (If I cannot, then I am wasting both your time and mine.) As a general rule, that means that you would have received an A or A– in one of my courses, or otherwise distinguished yourself in a SAIS course or activity in which I was an observer or participant. You should not take this as a hard and fast rule, as there have been cases in which a student’s grade poorly captured her overall competitiveness for a particular position, or failed to account for the degree to which she overcame adversities or disadvantages during her time at SAIS. I am happy to discuss this on a case by case basis.

  • PhD Recommendations. If you are seeking a letter of recommendation to pursue a PhD, please make an appointment to discuss your proposal and ambitions, preferably at least six weeks before your applications are due. In most cases, I will seek to dissuade you from pursuing a doctorate. I will be pleased to write you a recommendation for a PhD program if and only if you understand what you are getting into; have a reasonably well formulated plan of study; have undertaken serious research to identify potential programs and advisors; and have distinguished yourself academically at SAIS and in my course(s).