How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Asking a professor or mentor for a letter of recommendation is something every student needs to do at some point in their education. We are generally willing to write letters for our students, and we know that great letters of recommendation are key to your success – which is exactly what we want for you! But, it is important that you follow some guidelines to make sure we have the correct information to write a good letter for you.

One thing many students don’t understand is how long it takes us to write a good letter. At a bare minimum, professors will spend several hours writing a letter, and usually it takes much longer than that. We often write letters over several days, revisiting it to tweak the language and add details. We review your resume, read your cover letter or proposal, and research the job, school, residency, or grant you are applying to so that we have more information. We do this so that we can align our comments with the position you want, so you need to provide as much information as is necessary for us to have those details at hand.

The following is a checklist to follow when asking someone to write a letter for you:

1. Make sure you give your recommendor as much lead time as possible. Ask them well in advance, several weeks if possible. Keep in mind how long we are spending on these letters. You want your recommendor to have enough time to write the best letter for you.

2. Put all of the relevant information into one email. Your email should include the date the letter is due, where to send it (a link if necessary), how to send it (do they as for a PDF, or another format), the exact title of what you are applying for, and any (and all) relevant information.

3. Send your writer your current resume and your cover letter, letter of intent, grant proposal, or whatever you are sending with your application. We use this information to write very specific things in our letters. The people reviewing your application are likely looking at lots of applications and reading a lot of letters. It will be the specifics we put in your letter that make it stand out, so make sure we have the proper information to add specific information into the letter.

4. If the application requires images of your work, make sure you also send those images to recommendor (well in advance). We often reference specific works in your letters, so we need to know which works you are applying with.

4. If your letter needs to be addressed to a specific individual, make sure you send their full name, job title, etc to your writer. Please do not make us look that information up for ourselves.

5. Do not ask for a letter via text message, or through a social media message. Email us with all the important information listed above. If you ask us in person, follow up with an email with all the information.

Following the above guidelines is a sign of respect for your recommendor. They have likely poured a lot of time and effort into you, so please reward them with respect when you ask them for a letter. Remember, you are asking them for a lot of their time outside of class, so please be courteous when asking. And it should be a question to write a letter – not a demand.

And if you’re unsure of anything above, ask your recommendor how they would like to receive the information. Questions are ok! It means you are taking this seriously.