Recommendation letters

As a Caltech lecturer/instructor, I get a lot of requests for recommendation letters. Here is some information that you should know if you want me to write you a recommendation letter. In what follows, I'll assume that you, the reader, are the one requesting the letter of recommentation.


I'm generally willing to write you a letter of recommendation under the following circumstances:

In addition, it would help a lot if the position you're applying for is one in which the material I've taught you (i.e. computer programming) is relevant. So, if you're applying for grad school in a CS program, that's great. If you're applying for grad school in e.g. a theater program, it's not as optimal.

Under some exceptional circumstances, I might be willing to write a letter of recommendation for someone who isn't in the above categories. If you're not sure, email me.

What you can provide for me

If I am going to write you a recommendation letter, I would appreciate getting some information from you:

You are under no obligation to send me any of this information, and I may decide to write you a recommendation letter even without it, but the more information you send me, the better a recommendation letter I can write, and the more likely you are to get accepted into the program you're applying to.

What else?

I'm very busy, so it's possible that I'll forget about your request, especially if you ask me far in advance of the due date. Therefore, you should remind me periodically (but no more than once a week). In particular, if the deadline is coming up and you haven't heard from me, send me an email.

If it's at all possible for me to submit the recommendation online (e.g. by typing into a web form) then please let me know. This is a lot easier for me to do, and you'll get your recommendation sent out much earlier.

If you ask me to write you a letter of recommendation a week before a deadline, don't be surprised if I never write it. To get results, ask well in advance.

I don't like writing endless letters of recommendation for the same student, no matter how good the student is. I'm usually willing to write up to three letters per student (time permitting, of course). After that, I will generally say no. So make sure you decide which letters are the most important ones, and get me to write those.