Van Etten Lacey House

A timely reminder from your Department of English and Creative Writing...

Protocol for asking for letters of recommendation

Ask for an appointment to talk with the professor about possible letters of recommendation well in advance (months) of when you need them. Be certain that you have earned the recommendation. Does the professor know your work well enough to honestly recommend it? Ask yourself if you have been a good student, fair and supportive in your dealings with the professor, and, in general, someone they would want to pass on to esteemed colleagues. If you ask someone for a letter of recommendation and that person hesitates, do not push. It is not to your advantage to have someone pen a lukewarm recommendation.

Remember that you are asking for a considerable expense of time and energy on their part. It would behoove you to make it as easy for them to write the recommendation as possible.

There are simple ways to make the process less of a pain for all concerned.

Ask well in advance. You should have asked at least a month in advance so professors can write the recommendations when they have a convenient pocket of time. Last minute rush recommendations are a hassle for all concerned. If you must ask for a rush recommendation, it is usually best if you have at least earlier asked if the professor would be willing to write for you. Adding a new letter to an ongoing file is less problematic than having to start from scratch with a recommendation.

You must give the professors in writing enough information to write on you. They may know you very well, but even so, it is helpful if you can refresh their memory by including the copies of the papers you write for them, a current resume, transcript, and your statement of purpose for the applications. It would be easier for them if you do not expect them to rifle through files for different courses looking for samples of your work. Because you are asking for a favor, you should do the work, the copying, and the organizing of materials.

If you are applying to a certain type of graduate school, write up a statement of purpose for the program which clearly states your goals. If there is a particular aspect of your life, work, personality, etc., you would like this professor to focus on, you might note that (though certainly you would not tell the professor what to write!)

It would be helpful for the professor to know about the different programs to which you are applying—in some distilled paragraph or so. What is the approach of X University's program in Women's Studies? Who is there? If you can condense that information for your professors, they may be able to craft a letter which is more effective.

Practical tips: With each recommendation form, attach an envelope, stamped and addressed, and information about the deadline for that particular application. (You could attach the deadline on a sticky note or something.) Separate the forms so there is not a mass of mess which can become shuffled in transit. Folders might be helpful.

Include phone numbers of where you can be reached at every time, in case something is missing.

Etiquette is important: Thank the professor later for writing the recommendations. Writing recommendations is a major task and deserves real thanks, such as a thoughtful card. If you are accepted by a program for which they recommended you, be sure to let them know and thank them again.