Letters of Recommendation
It is likely that you will need a letter of recommendation at some point in your career, whether it is for graduate school, a scholarship, a fellowship, an internship, or employment. As such, it is important that you take every opportunity to get to know your professors by attending office hours and participating in class regularly. Selecting to take courses with small class sizes and taking more than one class with a professor are also good ways to get to know a professor.
Before asking a professor for a letter of recommendation, please consider the following suggestions and guidelines.
Who to Ask
A strong letter of recommendation can strengthen your application, so it is important to ask someone who knows you and your work well enough to evaluate your ability to perform and succeed in the career you are pursuing. In general, the best professor to ask for a letter of recommendation is one who:
- Knows your work well.
- Knows you well enough to be able to speak to the personal and professional characteristics you possess that will make you successful in the career you are pursuing.
- Has evaluated you in at least one upper-division course.
- Whose course(s) you performed well in. In general, if you earned less than a B+ in a course, it will be difficult for the professor to write more than a generic letter about you.
When to Ask
As a general rule, you should request your letter at least one month in advance of the deadline. The more time you give your recommender, the better. Professor Michaud is unable to write a letter with less than 2 weeks notice.
In addition, unless you have taken another course with a professor, you should wait until your final course grade has been posted before requesting a letter. Professors are generally unable to write a letter of recommendation for a first-time student mid-way through the semester because they have not yet evaluated the student's performance on exams, writing ability, and class participation for the semester.
How to Ask
- Set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. In general, you should not request a letter via email.
- Be prepared to explain to the professor what you are applying for and why it is important to you and your professional development.
- Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis, so a professor may decline to write one for you if she feels that she cannot write a strong letter on your behalf. Rather than asking a potential letter writer if she will write you a letter of recommendation, you should ask if she is willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.
What to Give your Letter Writer
In order to ensure that your recommender is able to write the strongest letter of recommendation possible, you will need to provide a portfolio that includes all of the following items.
- A cover letter that includes
- Your email address and phone number in case the letter writer needs to contact you
- A list of the schools, internships, scholarships, internships, or jobs that you are applying for
- The address(es) that the letter should be mailed to
- The deadline that the letter must be mailed by
- An explanation of why you believe you are a good fit
- Your transcripts (unofficial is fine). You should highlight courses that are relevant and those that you have taken with the professor.
- A draft of your statement of purpose (if required in your application).
- Your resume.
- Copies of papers and exams from any class you have taken with the professor.
- Information about the school, internship, scholarship, internship, or job that you are applying for so the professor knows the audience they are writing to and can be specific about how you are qualified.
- Any forms that must be included with the letter. Make sure that they are completed and signed by you, if necessary.
- Professors are busy--email your letter writer a courteous reminder 2 days before the deadline to make sure she has mailed your letter.
- Keep your professor posted on the status of your applications. Let them know whether or not you got the job, internship, scholarship, or fellowship and whether or not you accepted. Let them know which schools you were accepted to and which one you decided to attend.