Faculty members receive many requests to write letters of reference, for everything from study abroad programs, internships, and academic fellowships to applications for graduate school and post-graduate employment. It takes quite a lot of time to write a good letter, so it is essential that you give your recommender adequate time to compose a strong recommendation. Here are some tips to ensure that the process goes smoothly.

  • Remember that you must ask your recommender if they are willing and able to help you. When you make your request, be as clear as possible about what you are asking for. What are your goals and your motivations for pursuing a particular opportunity, and what do you need from him or her?
  • You should give your recommender at least two weeks (preferably a month) to get your letter done. Everyone has many demands on their time, and faculty members typically have many requests for letters at certain times of year. Be considerate.
  • Once your recommender has agreed to write for you, get them all the information they need to do a good job, as soon as possible. You should provide links to or copies of information about the program or job you are applying to, in addition to copies of the materials you are sending as part of your application. Personal statements, resumes, and other information about your accomplishments, activities, and your goals in applying will help your recommender to write the strongest possible letter. (Even drafts of these materials are helpful.) In addition, you should remind the recommender what classes you took with him/her, during which semesters, and what grade you received. Also, for each class, list the most memorable work you produced (a paper, presentation, etc.), which will help the recommender write a more detailed and precise letter.
  • You should provide all the necessary hard copy forms (already filled out), and a stamped, self-addressed envelope, if the recommender needs to mail the letter for you. If the applications require electronic submission, be sure to provide links to the relevant sites.  And if you are asking for multiple letters, make it easy for the recommender by providing a detailed list with deadlines and any other necessary information. This will help ensure that the recommender doesn’t inadvertently miss one or more of your many applications.  Make sure the due date for each letter is clearly indicated.
  • We suggest that if you have the option to waive access to your letter, you should do so. Confidential letters carry more weight, and recommenders will not agree to write for you if they can’t support your application strongly.
  • If you need a faculty member to serve as a reference, you should also ask permission to list them on your applications. Generally this involves the recommender being willing to talk with potential employers by phone or email. In this case, you should be sure to inform the recommender if someone is likely to call, and make sure that the recommender has some information about the position that the employer is calling about.
  • You may politely contact your recommender once in the week before the reference letter is due, to remind them of the upcoming deadline. Understand that while you may wish to complete your application a month before the deadline, that may not be possible for the recommender.

Remember that when you ask for a recommendation, you are asking for the gift of someone’s time and careful thought about how best to make the case in support of your application. Conducting yourself courteously and professionally will help the recommender see you and your application in the best possible light.