So you need a letter of recommendation. Am I the right person to ask? Let’s consider it.

letter of recommendation guide
cartoon graphic of an apple with a face and a bite out of it

About My Title

Although I have taught more than 100 undergraduate psychology courses at UMass Lowell since 2003, and even though I’ve advised students, consulted on textbooks, won teaching awards and earned consistently great ratings, I am, by title, Senior Adjunct Professor of Psychology. If you’re not familiar with titles in academia, that’s pretty much the worst title ever, and it’s one of the first things I will be asked to share on your letter of recommendation form. I strongly advise you to request recommendations from full-time faculty, even junior faculty. Admissions committees will value their letter more than they will value mine. I am telling you this because I care, and with twenty years’ experience supporting students and their goals. Trust me. Please continue reading, because amidst these sections is advice that will hopefully guide you towards the best possible outcome for you. Here are links to UMass Lowell Psychology Full-Time Faculty and Adjunct Faculty, for your consideration.

About My Role

How do I know you? When I lived local to the university, I taught a 4-4 courseload, and I often had students in two different classes. Since relocating in 2015, I only teach Community Psychology. Thus, unless you’re a student from prior to 2015, I only know you from the context of one, ten-week online class. This is another early question I will be asked to share on your recommendation form. I’m telling you, when I say that I’ve known you for ten weeks in the context of one online course, admissions committees are not going to believe that I’m a great recommendation, because of my limited role in your education. I strongly advise you to request recommendations from faculty with whom you have taken more than one course. Admissions committees will value those letters considerably more than letters from faculty with whom you have only taken one course. If possible, request recommendations from faculty with whom you have worked on something beyond the classroom – i.e. a research project. Admissions committees will find these the most valuable letters in your application packet, because grad school is about more than coursework.

About My Knowledge of You

This is related to “About My Role” but I wanted to spell it out more. After I fill out the parts which signal to the reader how credible a reference this is, the bulk of the letter of recommendation form is some combination of ranking on scales, and writing open responses, in which I must detail my assessment of a wide range of professional qualities that the receiving institution wants input on from references. Here’s the thing: among the long list of questions there’s some version of a “no basis for judgment” checkbox for each one. And I’m telling you, dear ones, if I only know you from one ten-week online course, I have no basis for judgment for many of the questions on a typical recommendation form. Me submitting a mostly blank form on your behalf, which is what I would have to do unless we have worked on something together beyond the classroom, would be devastating to your application. I suggest you strategize whom to ask for recommendations. Read the recommendation form if you can, and think about who knows you well enough to be able to answer such wide-ranging questions about you.

“Who Should Write My Letter of Recommendation?

I know this is not what you were expecting to find on this page. I wrote this all out because I care about you. When I used to teach a full time 4-4 courseload, and thus got to know some students quite well, and work on projects together, I used to enjoy writing recommendations and doing what I can to help students onward to the next thing for them. This little web guide here is my version of continuing to help you. I know it’s sometimes harder for online-only students to form relationships with faculty, and because I offer to stay in touch, former students sometimes think I’d make a great reference. I wrote this out to explain why I’m not the best letter of recommendation writer for you, and also to hopefully guide you towards figuring out who’s likely to be a better fit. I want you to be able to do and to be the things that you value. After you identify the faculty who know you and can best support you in this way, I suggest you ask the right people politely (i.e. “Dear Professor” not “Hey there”), recognizing you are asking them to do work for you, right? Be clear and concise in your ask. Explain why you’re asking specifically them (i.e. their multiple roles in your learning journey). And don’t ask at the last minute. I’m rooting for you. If I can help in some other way, email me.

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