- Plan ahead; leave ample time for a professor to write the letter…at least a month. Clearly define the deadline (at least one week before the materials are actually due)
- Decide whether you want to indicate that this will be an “open” (you can read) or “closed” (you cannot read) letter. An open letter guarantees that you know what was said about you. A closed letter gives away your right to read the letter. Some people see this as an opportunity for the recommender to be more candid, thus giving the letter greater validity.
- Choose professors who know you well, and who know the range of your abilities.
- Diplomatically request a letter of recommendation. “Do you feel you know enough about me to write a good letter?” If a professor seems at all hesitant, find someone else to ask.
- Be sure to include recommenders that a graduate school would expect a letter from. (i.e., thesis advisor)
- Give the professor all the forms at once (if possible), with a postage-paid, addressed envelope for each school or employer.
- Provide the followingL
1. A degree audit on which you have marked the courses taken from the professor.
2. A draft of your cover letter, personal statement, or notes about your goals, professional work history, accomplishments and honors, unusual experiences and personal strengths.
3. Your resume, and possibly a copy of your best paper, exam or assignment.
- Insurance plan: Include a stamped postcard addressed to you, noting that the graduate school has received the letter of recommendation. Ask the professor to enclose this with the letter of recommendation. The school will then send the postcard back to you when they receive the materials. If you do not receive a confirmation postcard, you will know you need to gently remind your professor of the deadline.
- It is good manners to send a thank-you note!
Donald Asher in Graduate Admissions Essays writes the “components of letters of recommendation should include: credentials of the writer; depth of knowledge of the candidate (you) as a person and as a performer; testimony as to the candidate’s intellectual capacity, work habits, preparedness for graduate studies; some small fault to demonstrate the writer’s objectivity; and predictions of the candidate’s future career contributions.”