Letters of Recommendation

How do you request a strong letter of recommendation?

Here are 8 tips on how to get the best letters of recommendation possible:

1. Before you ask for a letter of recommendation, approach the letter writer first as an advisor. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Make a point to go to their office hours to discuss your goals, interests, and larger aspirations. Don't be afraid to ask for advice, and through this process, you will be able to identify an enthusiastic recommender.

2. Use the application to help you identify a good letter writer. The application materials and guidelines provided by the foundation/organization to which you are applying for a fellowship may provide specific guidelines about what letter writers should be able to discuss. Some letters should stress research experience, leadership skills/potential, language competency, etc. Take this advice very seriously.

3. Ask in advance of the deadline. Four to six weeks before the internal deadline is considered an appropriate amount of time for letters of recommendation. It is important to remember that letters of recommendation must also adhere to internal deadlines, not just national ones. Also, if letters must be written or submitted in the summer or over a break, consider contacting the recommender much earlier to make sure they will be able to complete the letter. It is possible to ask too early. If the award is several months away, ask the recommender when they would prefer to receive the specific details pertaining to the letter.

4. Schedule an appointment. Once you have made contact with a potential recommender who has said they can write a strong letter, make an appointment to discuss the scholarship, its selection criteria, your most recent and commendable activities, and make suggestions about what areas to highlight in the letter. Be clear in this meeting about your goals and interests in applying for the award. Make sure the recommender knows exactly what you hope to pursue.

5. Provide the letter writer with all information necessary for the best letter.  It is important to ask in advance if the letter writer would like materials before writing the letter (CV/resume, a copy of your transcript, a detailed list of deadlines both internal and external, copies of your personal statement and/or research proposal, stamped and addressed envelopes if applicable, etc.).

6. It can be helpful to share your application with the recommender. Ask the recommender to look over your application materials, such as your personal statement, research/policy proposal, etc. Not only will this give you helpful advice on how to improve your application, it will also give the letter writer the best view of your goals for the fellowship.

7. Follow up, but don't bug your recommenders. It is not necessary to send them reminders every day or even every other day. If they have not submitted the letter or made contact with you within two weeks of the due date, send a reminder email. If you are having trouble getting in contact with the letter writer and are worried about them getting in on time, please contact the Office of Fellowships Advising.

8. Send a THANK YOU. Follow the thank you note up with the results of the competition. If you may want or need letters of recommendation in the future, it is crucial that you stay in touch.