Article

Using ChatGPT to Assist with Letters of Recommendation

Brett Christie, Ph.D.
VP, Educational Innovation & Inclusivity

Among the myriad roles that college faculty fulfill, one of the most impactful yet often understated is writing letters of recommendation. This task extends beyond mere administrative duty, embodying a profound service to students excelling in their academic and professional pursuits. Whether for graduate school, a job, or a promotion, these letters are more than just formal endorsements; they are catalysts that can propel deserving students toward the next stage in their professional journey. Through personalized and thoughtful recommendations, faculty members not only acknowledge the hard work and achievements of their students but also play a pivotal role in shaping their future opportunities.

However, the task of writing letters of recommendation can be one that can feel arduous or like an overload task, given they are often requested near the end of a term when assessment, grading, and other deadlines are looming. Luckily, a little bit of Generative AI can go a long way to streamline the process while still expressing the personal connections and endorsements desired. Using Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, need not seem like making it impersonal. After all, the focus of the letter of recommendation should not be on the writing process itself but the output as an effective representation of ways in which the candidate is being endorsed.

Create A Request Intake Form

For faculty inundated with requests for letters of recommendation, such as those teaching large gateway courses or serving in an advisory capacity, efficiency is key. An effective solution is to implement a simple, yet comprehensive online intake form for students to complete. This form streamlines the process by gathering essential information such as academic achievements, extracurricular involvements, and specific attributes the student wishes to be highlighted. It also collects information related to the desired outcome (e.g., graduate school acceptance, job, promotion), as well as the recipient who will be considering the applicant. If you would, you can feel free to adopt or adapt the following form to fit your needs in this process.

The benefits of this approach are twofold: it ensures that the letter addresses relevant aspects of the student’s profile, and it helps faculty members manage their workload. Additionally, maintaining a spreadsheet of these requests not only aids in tracking the volume and status of recommendations but also serves as a valuable record of student accomplishments and aspirations. Such an organized system proves invaluable for faculty committed to supporting their students’ success in an effective and orderly manner. It can help to grow your network of recent graduates, which can elevate visibility of your program in the field, as well as provide you with a running list of individuals you can have speak to students in your courses about their experience in the field or give advice as they consider their next steps beyond the program.

Implementing ChatGPT to Draft Letters of Recommendation

Whether accomplished through online intake form or case-by-case basis correspondence (e.g., email), ChatGPT will help you take key elements regarding the applicant and alignment to their desired outcome. ChatGPT performs very well in terms of formal writing yet descriptive writing, putting it into a professional format, and propping up appropriate salutations. The following prompt is ready to assist you, once you simply replace what is in the brackets with the related information you have collected.

ChatGPT Prompt: I have been asked by a [e.g., STUDENT, POSTDOC, ETC.] of mine to write a recommendation letter for their application to [e.g., GRAD PROGRAM, FELLOWSHIP, PROMOTION]. To create an effective letter, I need you to incorporate the following information: Addressed to [RECIPIENT NAME AND SALUTATION]; My relationship to the candidate through [EXPERIENCES, ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES]; Our length of relationship of [TIME]; What makes them particularly qualified [QUALIFICATION ATTRIBUTES]; Personal attribution strengths [CHARACTERISTICS]; and the following accomplishments [ACHIEVEMENTS]. After describing these, create a summative recommendation statement and an offer for me to discuss their application or provide further information. Close the letter professionally.

Once the prompt above is adjusted to the candidate’s details and entered into ChatGPT, it’s a matter of seconds before a complete draft results. At this stage, you as the expert can review what was written, check for accuracy, and make any adjustments to language used. After all, you want to ensure that the letter represents the candidate accurately, effectively, and in a way that also well represents you as the sponsor. Before trying this, feel free to see this real example of the prompt applied and the resulting output.

Conclusion

Through adopting the process above, the amount of communications and time elapsed can be significantly reduced, minimizing any anxiety – for both parties – about being able to complete the process in time. Leveraging a request form facilitates from the outset and adds continued benefits for the sponsoring instructor and department in tracking professional outcomes of their students. Leveraging ChatGPT can efficiently enable all of these outcomes while retaining the personalized essence of the recommendation.

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