Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
by Barbara Keating
Faculty are happy to help students by providing letters of recommendation.
Students, however, can make it easier for faculty to write better and stronger
letters by following some simple guidelines.
- Only ask people with
positive experiences with you to write letters. Recommendations are
not mere formalities. I once had an assistant request a letter after she
had not done her job. I declined. Some faculty or employers will write
letters for such students but may make the letter so neutral it says
nothing. Another reaction is to "damn with faint praise."
- Give us time, at least
a week, preferably two or more. Asking for a letter the day before the
deadline is unprofessional and inconsiderate. It may require the letter
writer to neglect something else to rescue the tardy student. This is
especially important if you are asking during the busy times of the
semester (first and last two weeks).
- Jog our memories.
After the first thousand students in our career, we forget the details
pertaining to a given student. Reference letters with concrete statements
and examples are more effective. Give the professor a written list:
- of the courses you have taken
from that person;
- when (semester and year) you
took those courses;
- the grades you earned in
- any special contributions you
made (group leader, tutor, etc);
- any special comments the
professor made about you at the time;
- attach copies of papers or
projects you did for the professor with the his or her comments.
- Give your references a
list of your other pertinent activities such as volunteer work,
internship experiences and student organization involvement with an
explanation about why you consider them helpful.
- Give your references a
list of your characteristics, skills or experiences you would like
emphasized. A copy of the job description is very helpful.
- Register at the Career
Development Center and get your letters placed in your file early.
Take advantage of their services including the free seminars on résumé
writing and practice interviews.
- Keep a portfolio of your
applicable work. This may include syllabi, papers, tests and projects.
Be able to demonstrate that you have the experience and skills to do the
- Take courses that improve
your professional skills even if they are more challenging. A
"C" in statistics, for example, is better than as "A"
in basket weaving. Get tutorial help if you find the better courses