A guide for students

As you apply for jobs, programs, internships, or grants, you may be asked for letters of recommendation. To help you reach your goals, the Department of Economics has prepared the following suggestions to simplify and guide your requests for these letters. Students should realize that the business of writing letters of recommendation is time consuming. You should therefore seek to minimize the time cost to your professors of writing letters for you. All of the admonitions in the paragraphs below are intended to reduce the time cost to your professors who will appreciate your consideration on this score. You should also be mindful that requests for recommendation letters generally come to professors in the final few weeks of a semester or academic year. These are busy times for faculty. Hence, it is incumbent upon you to make this process go smoothly and without any unnecessary hitches. The best way to impress your professors and secure their support would be to make sure you have done each of the following: 

In general, give your professors at least two weeks to write letters for you. This means providing them with all the information they need at least two weeks before your deadline, and even earlier if you need to send the letter yourself. Failure to plan ahead may result in a letter that is not as well thought-out or carefully prepared, which would obviously be counter-productive.

Provide a list of things you think would improve the letter. Include a brief description of what you think your programs are about and what you think they are looking for. Include some highlights that you think would be good to include in the letter. If you made some outstanding contribution in class, for example, you may want to remind the professor of it to make the letter more personal. Also provide a description of any major project or research paper you completed for the professor.

Include a recent résumé with your request. To write a strong letter, it is often helpful to have some idea of what you have been up to outside of class. In your list of things to include, you may want to refer to the résumé.

Include a list of applications you are requesting. In this list, indicate if the letter should be returned to you, if it is to be submitted online (and how), or if it is to be sent in the mail. If the letter is to be sent in the mail, please include complete mailing addresses. This list should also include the last possible date that the letter can be sent. Make sure to “pad” this date with a couple extra days to allow for mail times. This is very helpful and avoids the tragedy of an overlooked letter and missed deadlines.

If you are applying for graduate or professional school, some grant or fellowship programs, and most study abroad programs, you should also consider the following regarding common forms:

  • Complete any forms as much as possible. Generally these programs will have forms to complete and a description of what they want in letters of recommendation. Make sure your name, address, and all relevant information are included in the form. Look over the entire form to make sure you have not missed anything, such as your signature or social security number.

  • Sign the access waiver. Nearly all forms include a question that asks you whether you waive access to the recommendation letter. If you do not waive access, schools will put much less weight on the letter because it is not confidential. Most professors will not write a different letter if you do not waive access, but many will not write a letter unless access is waived. If you have concerns about what the professor will say, raise your concerns with the professor before the letter is written.