Policy on Letters
David S. Goldstein,
University of Washington,
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Periodically, students ask me to write
letters of recommendation on their behalf as they apply for jobs,
graduate school, or special programs. I am pleased to do so; it is
part of my job and I do not consider the task to be an
I do have a set of policies regarding the
letters that I write, however:
- I always supply a copy of the letter to
the person who asks me to write it, even when the person has waived his
or her right to see it (i.e., when the letter is "confidential"). The
persons evaluating the letter will not know that I have supplied it to
you. I do this because I would never write anything in a letter that I
would not tell you in person, and I want you to know exactly what I
told your evaluators. Please give me a self-addressed, stamped envelope
in which I can mail you your copy if you will not be seeing me soon.
- If the letter is going someplace on any
University of Washington campus, you do not need to give me an envelope
(although the recipient's UW mailbox number is helpful). I can put it
in interdepartmental mail. If the letter is going off campus, please
give me a stamped, addressed envelope for each recipient (if the
recipient requires the letter be mailed directly from me) or a plain
envelope (if the recipient requires my letter to accompany your
- By asking me to write a letter for you,
you implicitly grant permission for me to reveal otherwise confidential
information about your performance in my class and other details that I
think should be mentioned. You also implicitly grant me permission to
provide an honest assessment using my professional judgment of your
academic and personality characteristics.
- After I write the letter, you must tell me
where you get accepted. Some students for whom I write letters just
disappear, and I never get to find out whether they were successful or
- Any extra information you can provide
about your academic record and extra-curricular activities will help me
write a better letter. Please provide me with an unofficial transcript,
a résumé, or anything else that helps me know you better.
- Get to know me well in advance of asking
for a letter. It is hard to write a letter for a stranger. Visit my
office hours or make an appointment to talk with me, if you haven't
already done so.
- Please do not give me any gifts, even
little ones. I do not want even the appearance of impropriety. Besides,
writing letters is just part of my job.
- I prefer to have at least two weeks to
write the letter, but usually I can do it more quickly if necessary.
- I reserve the right to give you all kinds
of advice, whether you ask for it or not. (You can ignore it, of
- If you are applying to law school, be
prepared to give me a good reason for becoming an attorney. Most
attorneys I know are not happy. Why do you think you will be? If you
have a good answer, tell me, so I can emphasize that in the letter I
- If you are applying to a Ph.D. program,
heaven help you.
This page last updated July 3, 2004.