Suggested Guidelines for Reference Givers

Tips for Written References

Provide a written reference only if a student has given your name as a reference.

  1. When you prepare reference letters, be factual; do not editorialize. Avoid vague statements.
  2. Respond to the specific inquiry about the student or job applicant. Direct the response to the particular person who requested the information.
  3. If a "to whom it may concern" reference letter is requested, document that this is the type of reference requested and that the student or job applicant takes responsibility for disseminating the letter to the proper persons.
  4. Relate references to the specific position for which the person applied and the work that the applicant will perform.
  5. A good practice is to avoid giving personal opinions or feelings. However, if you make subjective statements or give opinions because they are requested, clearly identify them as opinions and not as fact.
  6. If you give an opinion, explain the incident or circumstances upon which you base the opinion.
  7. Be able to document all information you release.
  8. State in the reference letter, "This information is confidential, should be treated as such, and is provided at the request of [name of student or applicant], who has asked me to serve as a reference." Statements such as this give justification for the communication and leave no doubt that the information was not given to hurt a person's reputation.
  9. Do not include information that might indicate the individual's race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, citizenship status, sex (unless by the individual's name it is obvious), or marital status.
  10. Before disclosing educational information covered by FERPA (e.g. student's transcripts, GPA, grades, social security number, etc.), you must obtain the written consent of the student. Failure to obtain such consent may constitute a violation of FERPA.

Tips for Verbal References:

  1. Do not disclose information regarding a student's education record without the written consent of the student.
  2. Informal "lunch" discussions or "off the record" telephone conversations with prospective employers regarding a student's performance should be avoided unless the student is aware of the discussions and has given approval for such conversation.

    Information given should be factual, based upon personal knowledge/observation of the student through direct contact with the student.
  3. If any employer contacts faculty and advises the faculty that a student has given permission for the faculty member(s) to give a verbal reference, verification of this permission should be obtained from the student before giving any information to the employer. Such verification can include a copy of the student's signed employment application listing the faculty as a reference, or a verbal confirmation by the student, followed by written confirmation.

Sample Reference Letter

Sample may be adapted

Dear [Name of Employer]:

This reference letter is provided at the written request of [name of student], who has asked me to serve as a reference on [his/her] behalf. It is my understanding that [name of student] is being considered by your organization for the position of [job title]. Please be advised that the information contained in this letter is confidential and should be treated as such. The information should not be disclosed to [name of student, if student has waived access] or anyone in your organization who would not be involved in the hiring decision regarding this individual. Additionally, the information should not be disclosed to anyone outside of your organization without the consent of the student.

I have known [name of student] for the past [number of months, semesters, years] as [he/she] has taken the following courses which I teach: [list courses, give brief description of content of course]. As [his/her] professor, I have had an opportunity to observe the student's participation and interaction in class and to evaluate the student's knowledge of the subject matter. I would rate the student's overall performance in these subjects as [below average, average, above average]. This is evidenced by [his/her] grades—[state the grades].

[One or two specific examples of the student's performance may be appropriate.] As part of [his/her] grade in [name of course], the student was required to prepare a paper. The paper was designed to measure the student's ability to research, to analyze the results of the research, and to write. [Discuss how the paper submitted by the student indicated to you the student's skills in these areas.] Based upon this, I rate the student's skills [indicate rating].

[It may be appropriate to give specific examples about the student's area of expertise.]

Based upon the student's academic performance and my understanding of the position for which the student is applying, I believe the student would perform [place overall evaluation here].

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.