Letters of reference or recommendation are testimonials by professors, past employers, or other advisors from volunteer and extracurricular activities regarding your abilities, skills, and character citing examples from your academic, work, and personal history. It is critical to obtain strong letters of recommendation for any application process. Letters of recommendation also serve as a key piece of your professional career portfolio.
Graduate schools and employers usually require between three and five letters. Some applications will specify who should write them, while others leave this to your discretion. The groundwork for securing good letters of recommendations is ongoing and should begin early in your undergraduate career. By the beginning of your Junior year, you should be able to identify several faculty members who know you well and be comfortable approaching about potential recommendations. If you have not developed and honed such relationships, or if you are unsure how to start developing these types of relationships, please make an appointment with a Career Counselor.
Steps to Obtaining a Strong Recommendation Letter
- It is best to request letters of recommendation 4-8 weeks before the date that you need the letter(s), to allow plenty of time for them to be completed thoughtfully and thoroughly. Some faculty, staff, or others may not be able to help with short turn-around times.
- Choose your references carefully and select those who can really speak to those talents, skills, and abilities, required by the position or graduate program you are applying to and are familiar with your work. Most importantly, choose someone who has had significant contact with you and can speak highly of you.
- Ask those identified if they are willing and able to write a strong letter of support on your behalf. If they express reservations, then seek an alternative. A weak or overgeneralized recommendation can harm or negate your application process.
- It may be best to request letters of recommendation in writing, such as e-mail, in order to provide a written reminder of your request. Some faculty or staff may request to meet with you in person.
- Shortly before the letter of recommendation is due, follow-up to confirm that it has been completed and and sent.
- Send a thank you note or email to each person who has written you a letter of recommendation. Keep them updated on your graduate school or job search and let them know when you’ve been accepted into a graduate program or position.
What You Should Provide to Faculty, Staff, or Others Writing Your Recommendation
Make an appointment or send through email, items that may be very helpful to your faculty, staff, or other member to discuss and write your letter of recommendation.
- A statement of purpose including your interests, background, career goals, and qualifications.
- A copy of resume.
- An unofficial transcript.
- Courses you have taken with them (titles and dates) and grades received.
- A complete list (including titles and dates) of internships, independent studies, academic projects completed; honors an awards received; and any relevant work and/or volunteer experiences.
- Names of programs to which you are applying and addresses for each program.
- Due dates for the application for each program.
- Whether the letter of application should be submitted electronically through an on-line system, returned to you in a sealed envelope, or sent directly to the university or organization to which you are applying.
- Waive right of access? The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 gives students the right to view their educational records, including letters of recommendation. However, employers and admissions committees give more weight to confidential letters. Indicate on memo (above) if you intend to waive your right of access to any letter of recommendation.
If an individual you are requesting to write a reference letter for you needs assistance in preparing the document, you can have them contact us.
Download a sample reference letter (Word) Visual Resource