Requesting Letters of Recommendation

What are Letters of Recommendation and Why Do I Need Them?

Letters of Recommendation are statements written by established professionals who know you well enough to speak about your quality of work, professionalism, study habits, resilience, and/or future potential.

You will generally need Letters of Recommendation if you plan to apply to graduate and professional schools, many competitive scholarship and fellowship programs, and rarely, some jobs (especially in higher education).


How to Obtain Letters of Recommendation

Step 1: Build Your Network of Potential Letter Writers

This is THE MOST important step to take during your college years. Build this network and maintain contact, even after you graduate. If you take a gap year or want to spend a few years working before considering graduate school, staying in touch with the people you met during undergrad becomes even more important. Here are some tips:

  • Create a pool of potential letter writers by building authentic connections with others throughout your time on campus. Get to know your professors and academic advisors, professionals in your field, and work supervisors and colleagues. Connect with them on LinkedIn.
  • Share your personal and professional goals. Seek advice as you gain experience.
  • Keep your network updated on your plans. If you change direction, make sure they stay informed, and that they always understand the motivation behind your professional goals.
  • The strongest letters will be written by those who know you the best and can speak to your abilities in the classroom or in work, volunteer, or lab settings. What they write is more important than Who they are.

Step 2: Consider the Content

The quality of the letter is important. Can this individual evaluate your potential for success in the field, or attest to your academic ability, your work ethic, your drive for research and discovery, your resiliency, and your motivation? Do they know you well enough to provide specific examples? Can they express themself clearly in writing?

The number and type of letters you will need varies. Double check what your schools of interest require. Most schools require a minimum of three letters of evaluation, including at least one from someone in your academic department.

Step 3: Approach Letter Writers

  • Ask if they are willing to write a positive letter in support of your application. Remember that they might say no, and that is okay. You only want a writer who can devote the time and attention to writing a supportive letter for you.
  • If they agree, you can offer a meeting, or materials such as an unofficial transcript, résumé/CV, personal statement, or other information that will be included in your application. Most evaluators will only know you in one context, so providing additional information helps them have a more holistic understanding of you and things you are doing. Provide them with what they feel is necessary to write a strong letter.
  • Be sure to provide writers with plenty of time to compose a thoughtful letter. Requesting a letter early in the application process is likely to improve the quality of your letter. Remember your letter writer may receive requests from several other people. They may have many letters to compose on a tight timeline.
  • Thank letter writers and keep them updated on your progress and the outcome.

Step 4: Store Letters

As you request letters of recommendation, it is important to think about how you plan to store and access the letters when needed.  Some schools require that letter writers submit to them directly, but sometimes you will be responsible for managing and submitting the letters yourself.

An online letter storing service, like Interfolio's Dossier, can be a good option before, during, and even after the application process.  This service can confidentially store the letters submitted by your letter writers and allow you to send them as needed at any time.

Step 5: Keep Letter Writers and Letters Updated

  • Letters written immediately preceding the application submission are ideal, however, letters composed within two years of your application date can be used.
  • Consider asking for updated letters from your letter writers with each new application cycle so that they accurately reflect your current abilities and qualities. Keep them updated with your career goals, experiences, and application progress so they can modify their letters if desired.