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Guidelines for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Many faculty write close to 200 letters every year for students and former students. Faculty members take considerable time to write in detail and make every effort to present a candidate in the best possible light. The reasons for these letters include:

  • Graduate, law, business, medical and other professional schools.
  • Summer and traveling fellowships.
  • Study abroad programs.
  • Scholarships.
  • Prizes.
  • Employment.
  • Professional programs.
  • Internships.

The following are some suggestions to facilitate this process:

  • Give at least four, preferably five or more, weeks notice for any request. Even if you know that the instructor has a letter already on file, do not assume that it can be changed and quickly printed. Letters may need significant revision to fit a particular purpose. If classroom visitation is required for a teaching-specific recommendation, make the request in the semester prior to the deadline. If a faculty member has not seen you teach in more than two years, do not expect her/him to write about your teaching.
  • Include a written statement of the due date and whether it is a postmark or a receipt date.
  • Do not give short notice for letters. Short notice is anything less than three weeks. Five weeks or more is preferable.
  • Provide a written description of the purpose of the letter and/or a copy of instructions intended for the person writing. If there are multiple letters for different purposes, provide a description for each (e.g., graduate school, law school, traveling fellowship).
  • Complete any forms as thoroughly as you can. Do not expect the person writing for you to fill out any information that you yourself know.
  • Make certain to complete any waiver request, either yes or no. This is easily missed.
  • Provide copies of class papers and of any other papers directly relevant, with instructor's original comments if possible.
  • It is advisable to provide a copy of your transcript (an unofficial one is fine) and a curriculum vitae.
  • Offer to have an individual conference about the reasons for your application(s). At the very least, explain these reasons either by including a written statement or by including a draft of your project or statement of purpose submitted with your application.
  • Include fully addressed envelopes for each letter.
  • Affix sufficient postage, even if it's going elsewhere in the university (letters are often mailed from home or from other locations). Don't make someone else pay.
  • Do not e-mail requests for letters along with attachments. Print everything and give or send all materials to the person whom you are asking to write for you. Don't expect the person writing for you to print out your work or to visit a Web site (unless strictly required by the party receiving the letter).
  • Never assume that a letter can be faxed or e-mailed at the last minute. This puts unacceptable constraints on the person writing on your behalf.