Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Professors are pleased to write letters for students, and there are a few steps you can take to facilitate the process:

Be sure to allow the professor plenty of time to write the recommendation. Two to three weeks is the minimum recommended time. The professor may not be able to fulfill your request if you provide less advanced notice.

Provide the following:

  • A spreadsheet of all programs with due dates and any information that will help your recommender understand your reason for applying to that program.
  • A copy of your application essay
  • A resume and information about your GPA and GRE scores, if appropriate
  • A reminder of the classes, work, or research you undertook with the faculty member (this could be a simple list of classes and grades but you might also include a copy of papers you wrote for the professor)

    Most application processes are entirely online these days, but occasionally a student will need to submit a hard copy of a recommendation.  In these rare situations, please follow the steps below:

  • Provide all the information listed above and, in addition, indicate on the spreadsheet which programs require online forms and which, hard copies.
  • Fill out all of the information on the recommendation forms in advance. Be especially sure to sign the section regarding whether or not you waive your right to read the recommendations (see box below).
  • Provide a pre-addressed envelope for each recommendation.
  • Organize all forms in order of their due date, and submit them in a folder or envelope.

Note: Professors are going to write letters based in part, on their experience with you as a student in class. If an experience was not entirely positive, be aware that a letter may include critical comments or include a discussion of that experience. If you have questions about this, be sure to discuss it with the professor when making the request

WAIVE OR NOT WAIVE ISSUE: Many recommendation forms include a section that describes your rights to see the content of the recommendation should you be accepted into the program.  You may either WAIVE that right (thereby allowing the content of the recommendation to remain unknown to you), or NOT WAIVE that right (thereby allowing you to read the recommendation when you arrive at graduate school).

The choice to waive or not waive your right to see the recommendation is yours.  The forms usually say that the letters are treated similarly in either case.  It is possible, however, that the readers of these letters might think that your recommender gave a more honest appraisal of you if he or she knew you would not ultimately read it.  If you want that to happen, you should WAIVE your right to see the letter. BE SURE TO CHECK WHICHEVER BOX YOU WANT TO AND THEN SIGN.