Should there be a statute of limitations on letters of recommendation? I have a request from a student to write her a letter. I taught her 12 years ago, at a different institution. I hardly remember her, let alone her writing.

Have any of you had a similar situation? What did you say? What did you do? I want to help, but how helpful will I be? She’s been out of school for this dozen years, and now hopes for a Masters.

Would be interested in your thoughts on the matter and how you handled such a situation.

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3 Responses to

  1. Pam Regis says:

    I have asked students to send me one of the papers they wrote for my class. I can reread it, then comment on their habits of thought, their analytic abilities, and so forth. In English classes, there are ALWAYS papers. This would not help a prof in a course less dependent on writing for evaluation. It would also not help a requester who has not saved her papers.

    I have said, to folks whose record in my class is less than stellar, that another recommender would almost certainly provide a stronger recommendation.

    12 years is a long time.

  2. Reanna Ursin says:

    I have difficulty writing letters for students I taught 2-3 years ago, so I can’t imagine 12 years. Reading past papers definitely helps, but in the case of your former student, I wonder whether you’re going to be able to say anything more than the grade she earned and the success of her writing? If you can’t say anything about her attitude, work ethic, strengths, classroom presence, ability to work with others, etc., will the recommendation really be useful? On the other hand, she and the institution may not expect much from the recommendation given the amount of time that has passed; it could be just a formality of the application process.

  3. gretchenmckay says:

    I am assuming it is a formality – as I have already told her that my recommendation would not really be useful or very good. Her thesis was the best of the year (in 1999!) but how in the __ can I remember that from so long ago? In any case, she’ll get what she can from me.

    I was curious if others had faced this and what they’ve done about it.

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