Recommendation letters are service, not obligation, adviser says

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Time constraints are the biggest reason professors deny requests.

By Pam Paz

Students who need a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or adviser should approach them early and give them plenty of time to write it, said an adviser at this college and a former student.

It is not uncommon for students to request such letters, which play a critical role in a student’s success in higher education.

The Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Guide for Teaching Fellows on Writing Letters of Recommendation states, “[Writing recommendations] should be viewed as an almost integral part of your teaching experience.”

Professors, advisers and administrators are usually sought for these letters, though they are not required to write them.

Bertha Castellano, senior adviser at the women’s center, said there’s nothing written that says writing letters for students is required, but it’s something nice a professor chooses to do.

Stephanie Koenig, 2014 criminal justice distinguished graduate of this college, said her multiple requests for letters of recommendation were denied and ignored.

In September 2014, Koenig requested letters from four former professors, including the head of the criminal justice department, for law school applications. Of the four, only one responded.

Koenig said the professor agreed to do it, and they began communicating via email in September. She said she informed the professor she needed it sometime before the end of the semester, so she could start applying to law schools this spring.

In December, Koenig contacted the professor for the letter, but did not get a response. She said she sent multiple emails and never heard back.

“I was an honors student,” Koenig said. “I got A’s in all their classes and I worked really hard, and they still ignored me.”

She said students wanting recommendation letters should ask professors before they leave their class or this college, and if she could do things differently, she would have asked for the letters before she graduated.

“Trying to get a hold of them or help from them outside the class is nearly impossible,” Koenig said. “It’s sad that teachers only care about the success you have in their class, but not outside the classroom, and that’s not the message, especially the heads of departments, should be sending to students. They should want more for them.”

Dr. Val Calvert, chair of business, administrative computer technology and criminal justice, said she has never refused writing a letter for any student who has asked her

“I have no problem writing letters for students based on academic performance,” Calvert said.

She said she does not recall Koenig requesting a letter from her. She said it’s possible Koenig may have asked Tiffany Cox, criminal justice program coordinator, but Cox was not available for comment.

Calvert said it’s best for students to request letters from someone they know personally.

Castellano said she receives numerous requests for recommendation letters and has never denied a student.

She has written more than 100 letters of recommendation in the last two years, she said.

Castellano assisted students with scholarships at the women’s center for 11 years, but in the last two years has done more advising and requests for letters of recommendation, she said.

Timing is the most important thing to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation.

“It would be nice to have two weeks, especially for those who are teaching courses; I’m sure they’re very busy,” Castellano said. “When you bring in a document, you really want to give them enough time to think about it and tailor it to the application you’re submitting.”

Professionals in higher education are the best source for letters of recommendation.

Developing good communication and establishing an academic relationship with your professors, advisers and mentors is critical, she said.

Students should provide a copy of their résumé, essay and scholarship application whenever a letter is requested. The more information, the better, she said.

Castellano said she has written multiple letters of recommendation for students who have a proven track record with her.

Castellano said time constraints could be the biggest reason professors deny requests for letters of recommendation.

“It’s really nice to have the opportunity to write a good letter for a student, but it takes some time,” she said.


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