Requesting letters of recommendation

I frequently write letters of recommendation for students I know well, e.g. those I have mentored in the laboratory or taught in several courses.  Strong letters can help you compete for fellowships and awards, enter into graduate programs, or land jobs.

When you approach a faculty member about writing a letter of support remember that you want a STRONG letter from someone who knows you well.  Letters that are weak or written by someone who doesn’t know you well are generally not helpful, and may even hurt your chances.  If I can’t write you a strong letter I will be honest, and suggest that you consider someone else to write in support of your applications.

The College requires that you provide permission – a FERPA release for every letter of recommendation you request.  This slows down the process, so please plan ahead.

I request that you share a resume, C.V., or statements requested for applications so that I can make the letter as strong and personalized as possible.  Please allow at least two weeks to write letters of support.  And feel free to send me reminders!

Please be aware that the forms ask to you decide if you will, or will not, waive your right to see the letters.  This is your decision.  However, most faculty and some organizations will require that the letters be confidential – so that those writing letters can be open and honest.  This is their right.  Confidential letters often carry the most weight.  I will only write letters for students who waive the right to see the letters.  Again, I wouldn’t offer to write a letter that wasn’t going to be strong and positive.  I work hard to promote students and to avoid pitfalls such as biased or gendered language.  And I sometimes choose to share letters with students who request them.  But generally I will adhere to the traditional view that letters of support are confidential.

Online forms: FERPA Release for Faculty/Staff Letter of Recommendation or Reference

for current students

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law protecting the confidentiality of student education records.  Generally, Dickinson faculty and staff may not disclose personally identifiable information from student education records without the student’s written consent.  An exception to this is “directory information” as defined below, which can be disclosed without the student’s consent, unless the student has directed that such information not be disclosed by having a FERPA restriction placed on their student account.

for Alumni

Non-directory information from student education records may not be included in a letter of recommendation without the student’s written consent. Examples of non-directory information include GPA, grades/academic performance, performance in work/study positions or internships, etc.