The letter of recommendation is a critical component of your graduate school admissions or employment application, yet is entirely dependent on someone else -- your professor.
Remember that the professors from whom you seek these letters of recommendation are very busy and are asked to write a lot of recommendations. It is so important for you to make the letter writing process as convenient as possible for them. By following these tips, your recommenders will be able to write the strongest possible letters for you.
The easier you make your recommender’s job the happier they will be and you definitely want them happy when they are writing your letter!
You should make an appointment to discuss your letter with your potential recommender. Don’t ask for a recommendation letter immediately before or after class, in the hall, or at any other random time. You may make your initial request by email, explaining that you wish to set up an appointment to discuss your plans to apply to graduate school (professional school, Peace Corps, etc.). This gives the professor a heads up and a chance to think about whether he or she can write a helpful letter on your behalf.
Make sure the professor or advisor is willing to write the letter for you. I doubt you will be turned down, but it is common courtesy to politely ask. Pay attention to signals that a faculty member does not want to write a letter on your behalf. Anything other than a glowing letter can harm your application. If a faculty declines to write you a letter, don’t push. Take no for an answer - He or she is doing you a favor.
Letters of recommendation, just like other components of your application, have deadlines. Plan ahead, request recommendation letters at least 4-6 weeks before the deadline, and earlier if possible. Faculty members often have other things to do, so asking for a letter of recommendation on short notice will not ensure that they write the best letter of recommendation possible. If you must request one on short notice, explain your circumstances and make sure you ask if the recommender will be able to write one on short notice.
Give the professor what he or she needs to write an informed letter, including recommendation forms, unofficial transcript, essays, and other essential information. Assume that your letter writer knows nothing about you. Provide all information that you think may be helpful or that you would like to appear in the letter of recommendation. Include the completed Student Information Sheet in a neatly organized folder.
The information sheet contains the following information:
• Your Name
• Grade Record Examination scores (or other standardized test scores, such as MCAT, LSAT, DAT, Miller Analogies Test, etc.)
• Courses you’ve taken with recommender
• Titles and abstracts of research papers
• Honor societies you belong to and/or awards you’ve received
• Description of relevant work and or volunteer experience
• Your professional goals.
Attach copies of the following:
• Curriculum vitae
• Copy of CU transcripts
• Copy of application recommendation forms
• Personal statement
• Copies of your best written work in psychology
• List of schools you are applying to
• Addressed and stamped envelopes
Be neat. Organize all completed recommendation forms with supporting documents, relevant admissions essays, and a preaddressed stamped envelopes. Arrange documentation by school and place in a folder and neatly label each item. Neatness counts because it gives faculty the impression that you are organized and it makes their job easier, remember the easier, the better pay-off for you!
Ask for input on your choices and overall advice. If the faculty member offers to review your admissions essay or personal statement, take him or her up on it – and use their advice to improve it.
It is your responsibility to check with the school or program to make sure that your letters of recommendations have been received. You may send a reminder email one week before your deadline.
Applying to graduate programs takes quite a bit of work, but it will be well worth it when you are attending the school you have chosen. Make the entire process as easy for everyone involved as possible by staying organized. You don’t want to put anything off until the last minute, so stay well aware of all deadlines.
Most of all, remember that your professors do not owe you recommendations. They understand how important the letters are, and having provided a letter of recommendation for you, they are invested in your future. Be sure to let them know what you hear from the programs, even if you don’t get the results you are looking for. Either way, they want to know and they may be able to offer further advice on the next steps you should take. And don’t forget to thank them for all of their time and effort.