Rules for Letters of Recommendation*

I have written letters of recommendation for a lot of students. Many of the students for whom I wrote letters have gone on to successful careers in law, medicine, theology, academia, and the military. As you can imagine, I am proud of them; they are the academic equivalent of my children. I take letters of recommendation seriously, which is why I have certain requirements.

1. You must have had perfect attendance (or close to it) in every course you took from me. Some of your professors may not care about classroom attendance, but I do. In fact, I consider attendance (including lack of tardiness) the mark of a serious student, and I don’t write letters for unserious students. If you missed more than one or two classes in any course you took from me, do not ask me for a letter of recommendation. If you are just starting a course with me and don’t know yet whether you will ask me for a letter of recommendation, keep this requirement in mind.

2. Schools or companies trying to decide to commit to accepting you need a persuasive letter which differentiates you from the rest of the pack. If I do not know you, or cannot remember you, then I cannot write a good letter of recommendation for you. Most of my classes have a class participation grade component, and if I do not know you by the end of the semester, then you have not contributed to the class; any basic information on the class could be obtained from your transcript, and a terse letter from me will not help you.

3. You must waive your legal right to see the letter I write. The rationale for this rule (to which there are no exceptions) is that the entire merit-based process works best if students waive their right. Because I know that the student will never see my letter, I am able to speak candidly. Because the person who reads my letter knows that I was able to speak candidly, he or she gives it more weight, as compared to a letter from someone who was not able to speak candidly. This allows better admissions decisions to be made, which in turn promotes merit. Please note that I am not telling you that you must waive your right. Whether you waive your right is up to you. But whether I write a letter for you is up to me. Your choice, therefore, is between (i) waiving your right and getting a letter from me and (ii) not waiving your right and not getting a letter from me.

4. You may not possess any letter I write, even for forwarding. Some schools, departments, or programs say that I must (or may) send my letter to the student for forwarding. I disregard this requirement. Everything I write goes directly to the school, department, or program. Nothing passes through the student’s hands.

5. When using an online application facility, please complete the university boilerplate information in the application system(s). This include the institution names (Rice), correct address, telephone number, website, email, etc. I WILL NOT HAVE TIME to enter this for a lot of schools. If I find applications without the required information I will notify you, and will be happy to write the letter of recommendation after you have finished entering the required information. LOPOYPDNCAEOM**

Here is the usual required information:

    John A. Dobelman
    Professor in the Practice in Statistics
      (Or just Professor for space-constrained forms)
    The Rice University
    6100 Main St. MS-138
    Houston, TX 77005
    713 348 5681
    Official Rice Website:

6. If you are using a system which is not online, then any forms and postage-paid mailing envelopes must be completed and provided to me well in advance of any mailing deadlines. If you are unable to do this, then I will be unable to write a recommendation for you. If any forms/applications are missing the required information, I will notify you, and will be happy to write the letter of recommendation after you have finished entering the required information.

7. You must provide your statement of purpose and a list of schools and programs you plan on applying to, along with their application deadlines.

8. You must keep in touch with me as your career unfolds. A simple e-mail message as you move through the ranks of your profession, field, discipline, or occupation will suffice. If you’re applying to law schools, for example, tell me which offer of admission you accepted and when your studies begin. If you make law review, let me know. When you’re graduated from law school, let me know. When you pass the bar examination, let me know. When you get a job, let me know. When you make partner, let me know. I will reply to your messages with congratulations and encouragement.

* Thanks to Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D., University of Texas - Arlington for codifying much of this material.
** Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.