Sometimes high school students ask me for reference letters. (Some of them even got in!) So here are some details.
Programs I can write for#
I write letters most commonly for RSI and typical undergraduate colleges (MIT and Common App). I’ve also written letters for summer math camps such as Canada/USA MathCamp, PROMYS/ROSS, etc.
Whether to ask#
You should only ask for a letter from me if I know you somewhat well.1
Letters from me will necessarily be a bit unusual, so you should think about whether I’m the right person to do this. I am not formally a teacher or professor, which may confuse any clueless admissions officers2. Also, if I only worked with you at MOP or OTIS, I may not have spent enough time with you in-person to “paint a picture” compared to a teacher at your school, so to speak.
Usually people will ask me for letters if they want to add some context about their math contest experiences that’s more than just score, or to have me advocate for their mathematical ability. Anyways, I will assume you have thought this through.
Since I’m a nice person, I promise to not intentionally write you a negative letter. If I feel I cannot write you a letter with nonnegative value, I will decline your request instead.3
If you do ask a letter for me, I need the following information.
- Ask at least a month in advance.
- Please remind me which years I worked with you (in OTIS/MOP/SPARC/etc.). I have been doing this for so long that the years are all mixed up in my head, so I’d like to double check!
- Provide any recent math olympiad results, like USAMO / TSTST / TST / IMO. (I may not use them, but I want to have them if I need them).
- Is there anything in particular I should discuss?
- Please send me any application essays or completed forms you are willing to share (drafts of essays are okay). This way, I can tailor my letter to complement what you’ve already written.
- State explicitly when the deadline is.
Usually, I will always submit letters at least a week in advance if you asked ahead of time. So if it’s less than a week until the deadline and the letter I promised hasn’t been submitted yet, then please double check on it.