Seeking Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are very important for successful graduate school applicants as well as for people engaged in a job search. Reviewers depend highly on letters of recommendation. A well-written letter which presents the applicant in a favorable light can be just the thing to tip the scales in favor of the applicant, or cause reviewers to give the application a second look. In order to accumulate these letters of recommendation, certain guidelines should be followed. Most professors and former employers, even while pressed for time, are willing to help out by writing letters of recommendation. Remember, however, that they are doing you a favor. Keep their convenience in mind. Following are some suggestions regarding letters of recommendation which were solicited from instructors in the Psychology Department.

  1. Ask for letters well in advance. At least three weeks ahead of the due date is desirable.
  2. Don't rudely drop off a form or request for a letter of recommendation in a professor's office or mailbox and expect it to get done. Make sure that you pay the prospective writer the courtesy of ASKING in person if he/she will oblige. Then schedule a time to meet and discuss the process in more detail.
  3. Tell the recommender why you chose to ask him/her to write the recommendation for you.
  4. Don't expect the recommender to know what you feel are your strengths and accomplishments. Talk to him/her about what your strengths are and in what ways you have expressed them throughout your entire life.
  5. It is a good idea to give the recommender a formal write-up of your background, goals, accomplishments, and strengths; kind of like a resume, but more in depth, more personal. Include an unofficial transcript(s) and a copy your actual resume if you have one. In addition, it is helpful for the recommender to have a sample of your formal writing, a research paper, or an APA formatted report.
  6. Inform the recommender what the letter of recommendation is needed for; a job application, or a graduate school application. This knowledge will affect what information is relevant to put in the recommendation.
  7. Check back with the writer, more than once if necessary, to ensure that the letter of recommendation gets written and is sent by the deadline. Provide an addressed stamped envelope so that the writer can send the recommendation promptly upon completion.
  8. Always spell the recommender's name correctly, and make sure that they know how to spell your name correctly. This sounds funny, but mistakes like these do happen, and they can have serious consequences.
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