CS Letters of Recommendation Guide


This guide explains the CS Department’s policies on Letters of Recommendation and how to obtain one from our faculty.

Helpful Tips

Graduate programs may ask for up to three or four letters of recommendation.

If you are interested in a Ph.D. program or a graduate fellowship, your letter-writers should also have Ph.D.s, and should be able to write about your potential to do research. You should absolutely obtain a letter from a prof, or profs, you have done research with.

Your other letter-writers may be profs of your upper-division courses or your clinic advisor.

Ideally, you have had these kinds of interactions with your letter-writers.

  • You participated in research under the prof’s supervision.
  • You worked on an independent study with the prof.
  • You participated actively in one or more of the prof’s classes, attended office hours, talked to the prof about related material, and/or worked on bonus problems. In other words, you demonstrated interest in the material, ideally above-and-beyond what was required for the course.
  • You served as a grutor for this prof.
  • The prof is your clinic advisor.

Talk to your academic advisor and/or someone else in the department with whom you have developed a good working relationship to explore the possible set of letter-writers. Reach out to your possible letter-writers, discuss your graduate school plans, and ask if they feel they are in a position to write you a strong letter of recommendation. They may so “no” if they don’t feel that they know you well enough to write a letter that will be helpful for you. In general, it’s better to ask research advisors over clinic advisors over professors for whom you completed only a course project.

HMC Registrar’s Letter of Recommendation Data Release Form

When you have confirmed letter-writers, please fill out the Letter of Recommendation Data Release Form to give to your letter-writers. As per FERPA regulations, your student information is protected, and your letter-writers will need permission to discuss any of your personal student information, which includes grades, GPA, disciplinary status, ethnicity, gender, test scores, birth date, religion, citizenship, marital status, etc.

Letter of Recommendation Checklist

You should ask your letter writer at least one month in advance of your first deadline. Arrange for the reference forms to be sent to your letter-writers (profs usually have to submit them electronically) at least three weeks before the application deadline or at your letter-writer’s preferred time. Finally, submit the below checklist to your letter-writers at least two weeks in advance of your first deadline, whichever comes first. Generally, November 1st is a good date to turn everything in by.

Attach the following:

  • Personal statement/statement of purpose (if applicable, draft is acceptable)
  • Unofficial transcript)
  • CV/resume

Answer the following questions in the email:

  1. What is your name, graduation year, and major?
  2. For what are you applying (e.g., graduate school)? List the programs to which you are applying, together with due dates. (A two-column list works well here.)
  3. How long have I known you (in years and months), and what is my relationship to you (e.g., instructor, research advisor, etc.)?
  4. What classes have you taken with me? What grades did you earn, and how did you distinguish yourself in my classes?
  5. Have you graded or tutored for me? If so, for what classes and when?
  6. What would you like me to address? How would you describe yourself? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Your response to this question is important to me, so the more details the better.
  7. What are some of your academic and non-academic accomplishments? Any awards/honors you’ve been nominated for/received?
  8. Who else is writing letters for you? Or more importantly, what information would you like me to provide that may not otherwise be covered by your other letter writers?
  9. For special (e.g. summer) programs or fellowships, what are they looking for in candidates (e.g. students interested in a particular topic or career)? What makes you particularly qualified for this position/honor/award? A link to the program announcement should be sufficient.
  10. What are your long term goals? How will this position/honor/award help you attain that goal?
  11. Is there anything else you can think of that might help me (summer research, interesting jobs, hobbies, etc)?

It’s also helpful to check if your writer wants email reminders.