Letters of recommendation can  strengthen or weaken an application. Therefore, it is important you follow some basic etiquette to get the best letters possible.

When should I ask for letters of recommendation?

Ask people to serve as recommenders as early as possible, for example, in the early fall of your senior year (if you plan on entering graduate school in the fall following graduation).  Remember that the end of the semester is a busy time for faculty. Also, be sure to keep up with faculty you have in mind as possible recommenders, as faculty sometimes take sabbaticals or semester’s away.

Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

The best recommenders are those individuals who know you well. Hopefully, you have spent some time getting to know those individuals from whom you plan to ask for letters. Generally, it is advised that you have at least one academic (faculty) recommender. It is preferred to ask a faculty member who has the word “professor” in their title (as opposed to a temporary or adjunct faculty member). Other ideas include:

  • someone who has earned the degree you are seeking
  • someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in an internship, job, volunteer work, etc.
  • mentors
  • it is best to stay away from asking parents, family, and friends to write letters.

How should I ask for letters of recommendation?

A request for a letter of recommendation should take place in person, if possible. When you ask people to write a letter for you, be sure to:

  • explain what you need
  • talk about how this relates to your academic goals
  • tell people why you chose them
  • ask them if they are willing to write you a strong letter (this will help eliminate those who might write a lukewarm or negative letter).

If the recommender is willing to write the letter, be sure to:

  • give them the deadline
  • provide the recommender with a packet of information about yourself and your application process at the time of the conversation or shortly thereafter.

What information should I give recommenders?

The packet of information you give each recommender should include:

  • an acknowledgement of the recommender’s time and a “thank you”
  • information about how to get in touch with you (email address and phone number)
  • a short summary or bulleted list of those things you would like emphasized in the letter
  • the list of schools to which you are applying and corresponding deadlines (include the earliest deadline at the top)
  • details about letter format and where to send all letters
  • a closure that includes another expression of appreciation

The packet may contain:

  • your statement of purpose
  • your resume
  • an unofficial copy of your transcripts
  • a copy of your best work in the course (if you are asking a faculty member from which you’ve taken a course)
  • recommendation forms (be sure to type in your name, the recommender’s name, and any other information that could be filled in by you)
  • stamped and addressed envelopes

What kind of follow-up should I provide my recommenders?

Remind your recommenders at least one week before the deadline.  Send a “thank you” note to each recommender within one week after the deadline. Lastly, once your plans have finalized (and you have decided which school you will be attending), send a second “thank you” letter that includes your final plans.