MIGUEL ROIG, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology, St. John's University, 300 Howard Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10301
Tel: (718) 390-4513 - FAX: (718) 442-3612

Policy on letters of recommendation

Students will sometimes approach individual faculty members with a request that a letter of recommendation be written on the studentís behalf. Most often we are more than happy to comply with such requests. However, increasingly, we have found ourselves in the position of having to clarify the nature of this service and what follows is an attempt to do so.

Perhaps one of the most important issues that students need to understand with respect to letters of recommendation is that no student is automatically entitled to receive this type courtesy from a professor. A letter of recommendation is a privilege that a student earns, in part, as a result of generally positive academic experiences between the student and professor. Unfortunately, not all student-professor interactions and experiences are positive, particularly from a professor's point of view. In addition, in an otherwise positive student-professor history, there may have been a specific exchange or situations that make a professor uncomfortable endorsing that student. Consider, for example, a student who often talks discretely to a classmate during lectures or those who busy themselves with their cell phone or computer in unrelated tasks knowing that such behavior is likely distracting to their nearby peers or the instructor. Ask yourselves, if you were in my shoes, would you be comfortable recommending that student to a professional graduate program or a reputable employer? Because, of the interpersonal nature of the professor-student relationship, I am generally reluctant to write letters of recommendation for students who I have only had in Distance Learning courses, particularly if I have never had any face-to-face interactions with that student. Remember, when we write on a studentís behalf, we are essentially putting our reputation on the line, particularly with respect to the usefulness of future endorsements of other students. If I recommend a student to a given program and that student is not sufficiently mature and/or does not do well, any future recommendation from me to that program will likely not be given the same weight or may be dismissed outright. Such an outcome would not be fair to me or to future students seeking our endorsements. It is for this latter reason that sometimes even a vague suspicion about the general behavior, academic, or work potential of a student may sway me to decline a studentís request for a letter of recommendation. In other cases, work-related pressures or other personal factors make writing such letters difficult for us. In sum, we may elect to decline a request to write a letter of recommendation for a student and, as this is a courtesy that we extend to our students, we are under no obligation to share with you why we decline such requests.

So, what do we write about when we write letters of recommendation? An individual writing a letter of recommendation is typically asked to give an honest appraisal of the student's potential for graduate education or for a job position. Often we are asked to write about the student's academic and social strengths and weaknesses, their maturity level, their ability to work well with others of different ethnic and/or age groups, their leadership potential, etc. Therefore, writing an effective letter of recommendation is not an easy task for us and can be even more difficult when the student is lacking in some important area (e.g., writing skills). Given all of these considerations, my appraisals of students are mostly based on actual classroom behavioral indicators and performances. As such, my letters of recommendation will routinely include the following information:

  1. A listing of each of the classes the student has taken from me, the semester and year those classes were taken, and the grade earned.
  2. The relative standing in the class with respect to overall exam performance and with respect to any written materials submitted for that class.
  3. A statement about the student's record of attendance including information about attendance and assignments' promptness or lateness.
  4. A statement about my assessment of the student's verbal and writing skills.
  5. A statement about my impression of the student's character, reliability, maturity, commitment to the discipline, etc. based on his/her overall classroom behavior.
  6. Other pertinent information, such as active membership in student organizations or relevant extra-curricular activities that I am aware of may be included.

If you want me to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, you need to approach me and make the request privately. If I agree to write you a letter, then you must submit to me the following information and materials in writing:

1.      Full name and address of individual and/or organization to which recommendation should be sent.

2.      List of programs to which the student is applying to and the date that the letter is due. Indicate which specific programs will require electronic letters and which ones require letters to be sent by regular mail. For the latter, a self-addressed (typed) stamped envelope for each institution or place of employment where letter is to be sent.

3.      A copy of your resume or equivalent and/or any other information that might assist me in writing the letter (e.g., work experience, research experience, campus activities). Include your e-mail address and telephone number.

  1. The courses that you have taken from me, the semester in which you took them, and the grade that you earned in each course.
  2. Your contact information.
  3. A signed copy of this document.

Letters will not be written unless I have all of the above information in my possession. I require that students allow me at least two weeks to write their letter. In addition, please be advised that I will write a letter of recommendation only if the student waves his/her right of access to that letter. For your benefit, make sure that all information that you include in the application package, including any letter of recommendation forms, envelopes, etc., is neatly typed.

Name (print): ____________________________________________________

Signature: _________________________________________________Date: ___________