Letters of Recommendation

Guidelines for Obtaining References

Who? You will typically need two to three academic references from people who can write about your skills as a student. One of these references may include an employer or supervisor if you have had work experience in a related field. For alumni who have been away from school for a while, select those who can speak to your skills, accomplishments, and likelihood to succeed in the graduate programs that you are applying to.

Ask First! It is a courtesy to your recommenders that you speak with them beforehand about writing a letter for you. Do not presume that a faculty member or former supervisor will write on your behalf. Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis; no one is obliged to write them. Faculty members or other potential recommenders, therefore, may decline to write if they so choose. 

Give Enough Notice. It is helpful if you ask at least 30 days before you need the letter and preferably longer, as it takes time to write a good letter and writers often have other commitments and deadlines.

Provide info to the recommender.  When recommenders have agreed to write, whelp them make their letters as specific and useful as possible by providing the following:

  • The deadlines
  • A copy of your transcript (it can be unofficial)
  • Your resume
  • A statement about what specifically you are applying for, and why (perhaps a copy of your application essay)
  • Instructions about how to upload or where to send the letters of recommendation (e.g., to you, to the institution, or to a third party)
  • Ask them for confirmation that the letters have been sent  

Additionally, for faculty recommenders, ask if they'd like you to give them:

  • The evaluations you received in their course(s)
  • Copies of papers you wrote or other samples of your work in their courses
  • Your resume

Staying on Top of the Process

In general, professors and others want to help you and are pleased to write on your behalf. They are, however, involved in many activities, so the priority status of your recommendation might fall as urgent projects arise. Remember that professors, supervisors, and others do not have to write letters of recommendation on your behalf, but if they agree to do so, then they make a commitment to you. They want to write, but may need some timely reminders. Therefore, it is important to find ways to approach your recommenders to remind them gently of deadlines, and to ask for confirmation that the letters have been sent.

It is important that you (not your letter writers) stay on top of deadlines and manage your graduate school application. Take nothing for granted.

  • We encourage you to send an email a week before your application is due, with a gentle reminder that the deadline is approaching. 
  • You can also ask if they need anything from you, and for confirmation they'll be able to complete by the deadline.

When all is done, remember to thank recommenders for their assistance, and be sure to let them know the outcomes of your applications.

Recommendation Storage Service

If you would like to collect and store letters of recommendation, the online service Interfolio has a very strong reputation; they've been in existence since 1999 and are used by many schools. Read more about their Dossier service,  (As of Spring 2022, there's no charge to get your letters stored there and the cost is $48/year to send to as many places as you'd like.)

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