Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of applications to graduate school, internships, and jobs. I consider it an honor to write letters for students and do what I can to write the very best letter for every student for whom I write a letter of recommendation. Due to the large number of requests I receive every year, though, I simply cannot write letters for every student who requests them. The best letters are written by individuals who know the applicant personally and have multi-faceted relationships with the applicant. This is especially true for Masters (research-based), PhD, and award letters. For these letters, I need to be able to speak firsthand about the applicant’s ability to work independently, think creatively, work well with others, or have other abilities that can only be understood from personal experience. If I can’t speak to these abilities in my letter, I cannot write a compelling letter of recommendation that will benefit the applicant. If you want me to write you a letter of recommendation, I ask you to consider the following criteria for requesting that I write a letter for you. If you meet the criteria, you may fill out one of the linked forms below to provide me with information I need to write you a letter.

  1. Are there more than two weeks before the deadline for your application and will I receive a link to any recommendation forms at two weeks before they are due? If so, proceed to step 2.
  2. Is your CV/resume and transcript ready to send to me immediately? If so, proceed to step 3.
  3. Often there is a choice to “waive the right to view the recommendation.” Are you willing to waive your right so that I may be as candid as possible in my letter? If so, proceed to step 4.
  4. Take note of my title/contact information when filling out online forms. You must fill out this information exactly in your online forms or I reserve the right to not complete your letter of recommendation. Proceed to step 5
    Name: Geoffrey Herman
    Title: Teaching Associate Professor
    Unit: Department of Computer Science
    University: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Address: 3213 Siebel Center, 201 N. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, IL 61801
    Phone: 217-300-3579
  5. If my only relationship with you is that I was your instructor in a large course such as CS 233, go to section “Coursework letters.” If we have a personal relationship outside a large course (e.g., you were on my course staff, completed an independent study with me, or conducted research with me), go to section “Full letters.”

Coursework letters

If my only relationship with you is that I was your instructor in a large course such as CS 233, I am willing to write only a standard letter that affirms that you took the course with me, describes how well you did in the class (i.e., top 5% or top 25%) and your degree program, describes the types of assignments and concepts that you demonstrated mastery of in the class, and possibly describes positive contributions you made to the class if you were an active participant in class. This is unfortunately not a good letter and would hurt your application to research-based programs and awards. I wish I could write a stronger letter, but without a more personal relationship, I cannot speak to your unique skills, motivation, and attitudes that make you an amazing candidate for these types of opportunities. For these reasons, I am not willing to write letters of recommendation for research-based Masters degree programs, PhD programs, or awards. I cannot in good conscience write a letter that I think would hurt a students’ chances of obtaining their next opportunity. It is in your own best interest to find someone else who knows you personally (even someone from non-academic contexts) to write your letter. This is one of the regrettable downsides of large classes.

If you still want me to write such a weak letter (I wish it wouldn’t be weak), follow these instructions.

  1. Are you asking for a coursework-based Masters degree programs such as the MCS program at Illinois? If so, proceed to step 2.
  2. Are you requesting for me to send letters for no more than 6 programs? If so, proceed to step 3.
  3. Fill out this form. Proceed to step 4.
  4. Fill out your application forms, especially paying attention to my contact information above

Full letters

If I have a relationship with you beyond a large course, I will commit to writing a personalized and detailed letter to any graduate degree program, award, or job that requires it up to 10 per semester. To help me write this letter, I will need you to help me understand why you believe that you are a good candidate for the relevant position so that my letter can reflect the values of the program/position you are applying for. Please fill out this form. After you submit the form, please send me an e-mail with your CV and transcript.