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Letters of Recommendation

Asking for letters of recommendation can be intimidating to some students, but if you go into it with the right attitude and having prepared thoroughly, you should find that it is not so difficult after all. Here are some helpful hints for approaching people about writing your letters.

  • Seek out the people who really know you well. Think outside the box of tenured professors at the university. Not that those are bad, but they may not be the people who are most familiar with the you and your work. The letter writers depth of knowledge about you is more important than their ranking.
  • If the letter is coming from someone outside an academic setting, it would be a good idea to acquaint the person with the scholarship or fellowship program and to the general style of letters of recommendation.
  • Ask early! The earlier you approach someone to write for you, the easier it will be for them to plan their time. In general, asking for a letter in less than three weeks is considered inconsiderate.
  • Give the letter writers a deadline of about a week earlier than it is actually due. Often faculty will become overwhelmed with the number of letters they have to write, in addition to the other work they have to do, and will be a bit tardy in getting letters in to the Fellowships office. If you give them an earlier deadline, any mishaps along the way will not leave you out of the running.
  • Prepare a packet to make their lives easier. The more information you can give your letter writers, the better. Try putting together a packet with the following: a brief description of the fellowship(s) you are applying for, including criteria for selection; a current resume; a list of personal data (extracurricular activities, or organizations) which may not appear on your resume; a rough draft of your application or project proposal; helpful reminders of great things you did in their class/organization/internship.
  • About a week or two before the recommendation is due, contact them again to find out if they need any more information or update them on any changes you may have made to your proposal. (This also works as a friendly reminder that the deadline is approaching.)