Saying “No” to a Student’s Request

For one reason or another, there may be instances where you are unable to provide a student with a recommendation letter. Whether it’s because a student didn’t provide you with enough time or you feel you’re unable to provide enthusiastic support, you can take the following approaches to saying no:

  • Establish a personal policy early on regarding recommendation letters. This step is a good way to hold yourself accountable and create a consistent process;
  • Offer to help the student brainstorm other faculty and individuals to whom they can reach out based on the stated mission of the fellowship opportunity and the student’s course of study or research;
  • Refer them to the Center for Research and Fellowships, where we can work with them to identify alternatives.

If you tell a student that you are unable to write a letter because of time constraints, but choose to write a letter for another student in the same class, it’s possible that word will get around. Consistency is thus crucial.

Dealing with rejection positively and constructively is an important part of a student’s academic, professional, and personal development and a critical skill built by the fellowship application process.