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Getting Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation Guide

If you need a letter of recommendation for an internship, job, scholarship, etc., there are a few issues to consider.

Whom to ask?

Given a choice about whom to ask, request a letter from someone who . . .

  • Is comfortable writing a letter for you
  • Can write well and write easily
  • Has experience writing letters of recommendation
  • Is familiar with your work
  • Knows you well enough to be able to include personal anecdotes in the letter
  • Has the highest and/or most relevant job title

For most people, this will mean instructors you have had in major courses or possibly your advisor. They should be the most familiar with the work that you have produced that is both close to your intended field and shows the greatest maturity in terms of writing, research sophistication, etc.

How do I approach potential letter writers?

Make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email (if possible). Be prepared to discuss the program, scholarship, graduate study, etc., that you for which you wish to apply.

When to ask?

Give your writers a reasonable amount of time, preferably at least one month, longer at the end of the semester. If you are sure you are applying to graduate school by your junior year, approach potential recommenders before leaving for the summer. They might steer you to additional courses that will help prepare you for graduate school, can help guide your search for potential schools, and may be willing to offer feedback on application materials (essays, etc.) if given enough time.

What information do my letter writers need to write good letters?

You can help your letter writers produce detailed, personalized letters by giving each of them a portfolio that includes:

A) A cover note that includes:

  • Information on how to get in touch with you in case they need to reach you
  • What you would like emphasized in each letter (if the scholarship or program is asking for specific elements in the application process)
  • A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates, with the earliest due date at the top
  • Any other information that is relevant
  • Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledgement that the letter writer’s time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future.

B) Recommendation forms (if applicable):  To make it easy for letter writers to complete forms in a timely manner, do the following: you should make sure that the applicant information is typed in on paper forms, as well as the recommender’s name, title, contact info (telephone, fax, address etc). For many applications, you might only need to provide an email and the application system will send your recommender a link to any form(s) need to be completed.

C) In addition – and be sure to ask the recommender – you should be prepared to share the following:

  • Your unofficial transcripts (note courses you took with them)
  • A draft of your essays or statement of purpose
  • A copy of your best work in the course(s) (with instructor comments on it), lab evaluations, projects, publications etc.
  • Your resume/CV
  • Stamped and addressed envelopes to send letters wherever they are supposed to go (if the application is not electronic).

Send a Thank You Note

Writing letters of recommendation is a favor. Sending a thank you note two weeks before the deadline will relate politeness, gratitude, and respect. In addition, the note will be a gentle reminder that the letter should have been sent already or should be submitted soon.

Let your recommender know how things turn out, especially if they are positive.

Following these basic tips should ease the stress of asking for, and receiving, the letters of recommendation that will augment your application.