Recommendations for Graduate School or Employment

One of the things that makes me happy about being a teacher is helping people move on to the next phase of their lives by providing recommendations for employment or school, including recommendations for scholarships and awards. However, because I most like writing good recommendations, I have a couple of conditions, and Federal law requires a third condition.

  1. You have to warn me before you give my name as a reference. (Otherwise, I may think a caller is trying to sell me something I don't want to buy and blow them off. That would be bad.) An email telling me who's expected to contact me is enough.
  2. Please don't give my name as a reference without talking to me if you earned a grade of less than B in any of my classes. In fairness to you, I want to discuss with you what I would say about you and give you an opportunity to decide whether you would rather ask another professor to serve.
  3. Federal law requires that I have a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) release from you before I tell anyone anything other than my personal observations about your education at KSU or SPSU. For most of you, all I know about you is your performance as a student, so without that release, the most I can say is that you were my student, period. I can't even mention the courses you took. Because those asking about you are likely to interpret such a stark statement negatively, I won't provide any reference at all without that FERPA release.

Resume and Other Information

I can write a better reference if you send me a current copy of your resume and tell me a little bit about why you're particularly qualified for the job, educational program, or award you're applying for. I don't require those things for a recommendation, but it is probably worth your trouble to send them along. (You have to get this stuff together for your application anyway; you may as well get the maximum mileage out of it!)

If you have items you'd like me to mention in the recommendation, tell me what they are; email is fine. (However, I don't promise to mention all of them; I have to have some personal knowledge of them to write about them.)

If you're applying to a school, a copy of your application essay will help me write a better recommendation.

If you're struggling with your statement of purpose, there is some good advice here.

And also:

  • Tell me what the deadline is!
  • Include your student number.
  • Remind me which of my classes you have taken, and when.
  • How did you distinguish yourself in those classes?
  • How would you describe yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? I am going to have to answer those questions when I write your reference, so the more details the better, but these have to be things I've observed myself.
  • What are some of your academic and nonacademic accomplishments that I may not remember?
  • What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you? That is, why should the recipient of the letter value it over a letter from someone else?

About the FERPA Release

You can provide a FERPA release electronically via Owl Express. You can find information at FERPA: Form Information for Students.  As a retiree, I can't see it though, so fill out the form so it's on record, then print a copy to PDF and get it to me.

KSU requires a FERPA release even if you are applying to graduate school. I also need their reference or recommendation form, which will often be electronic. Their form must allow you to indicate whether you do or do not waive your right to access to my recommendation. (If I find a problem with a school's form, I'll let you know.)

Most employers don't know about FERPA and don't provide a reference form anyway.

If you think you might want me to serve as a reference for more than one kind of application, or for more than one potential employer or potential educational institution, try to cover all the possibilities in the first form you send me. That way, you won't need a new form every time.

If you're applying for a security clearance, want me to talk to a parent about your progress, or otherwise have a request that's not employment, educational application, or award, I still need that release.

Hand deliver:  Bring your release to J-390 during business hours with my name on it.  Let me know by email that you dropped it off.
Send by email:  Bob dot Brown at Kennesaw dot edu
Send by postal mail:
Bob Brown, Ph.D.
Mail Stop 9036, Room J-390
Kennesaw State University
1100 South Marietta Parkway
Marietta, Georgia 30060

Although I've retired, I can still write recommendations. My email still works, and I'll get material sent to me at the department office.

Waiver of Right to Access

When you fill out the FERPA release, you will be asked to check whether you do or do not waive your right of access to references I may write under your release. Application forms for graduate school will also ask that question. If you do waive your right of access, then I (and they) do not have to tell you what I have written. I think that both prospective schools and prospective employers will give more weight to a reference if they believe it is confidential, and you should take that into consideration when you make your choice. I reserve the right to decline to complete reference forms where you have not waived your right to access, even if I have previously told you I'd be a reference, because the institution receiving the recommendation will not take it seriously, so it's a waste of my time!

Besides that, if you don't trust a professor to write a good recommendation, you've asked the wrong professor.

What I Tell Faculty

Every now and then a faculty colleague asks about writing letters of recommendation. This is what I tell them.

Last updated:  2022-09-22 13:31
Originally published: 2012-10-06