Some Advice From A Seasoned Recommendation Writer

After you have met with a potential letter writer and s/he has agreed to support your upcoming applications, make sure to let him/her know that you will follow up with supporting material.  Some students just ask for letters verbally or in an email, and then assume that everything is taken care of.  Don't make such assumptions. Instead, use the following guidelines:

1. Provide scholarship or transfer application information. If you are applying to several colleges or more than one scholarship, list these items and the corresponding deadlines on a separate sheet of paper. If the letter is for just one scholarship, also note such details in your cover letter to the professor.

2. Include any forms that need to accompany letters of recommendation. Be attentive--many of these forms require your signature and your personal information, and some ask you to check off a box to agree that these letters are confidential and won’'t be viewed by you (choose that option). Some students don’t bother to read these forms, and simply put them—not filled out or signed, not accompanied by supporting material—into professors'’ mailboxes (or worse, on or under their office doors!). If you are hoping to get thoughtful letters from professors, then do put some thought into how you package and present your request.

3. Common Application letters of recommendation are submitted online. You simply need to enter the letter writers' email address, though you should make sure that they receive the Common Appl. email request after you do so. Your letter writers will provide just one letter for the Common Appl. (and can't tailor their letters to specific colleges). ​


4. For colleges and scholarships that still require paper submissions of recommendation letters, see points 1, 2 and 5. Some colleges and scholarship programs want the letters sent directly to them; others want the letters included in your application package. Therefore, you should identify clearly on the cover letter (see point #1) what each college or scholarship program requires.​

5. Most of us don’t need envelopes or stamps to send our recommendations out. We use college envelopes and campus mail for this purpose because providing these letters is part of our job. You can always check with your professors (especially if they are part-time instructors) to find out if they want envelopes or stamps. By and large, we use the college supplies and resources for such business-related correspondence. What you should provide are mailing labels addressed to the places to which you are applying, especially if you are applying to multiple colleges. This way, you save the letter writers from having to address 15-20 envelopes by hand (keep in mind that many instructors write letters for many of your peers around the same time as well).

6. Provide your letters writers with your updated resume and an unofficial college transcript.

7. Provide your letter writers with a draft personal essay.

8. Provide them with a copy of an essay from the course you took with them, if possible.  A student recently did something extra, which I found helpful.  In his cover letter to me, he also said a little something specific about what he learned in my course.  You should be honest here--this is not an opportunity for you to brown-nose the instructor (we can tell the difference).  Instead, what you want to provide is a reflection on your own learning process in that specific course.  This is especially helpful for courses that do not involve essays or research projects (like math, for instance).  You can foreground specific course components, units or texts that you mastered or that inspired you, for instance.

9. Provide some information about your academic and professional goals in your cover letter.  This will help your letter writers to contextualize your work in their courses.

10. Keep your letter writers updated on your transfer and scholarship work.  We don’t want to send off letters to places to which you have decided not apply.  Therefore, be responsible when asking for these letters—don't ask for them unless you are really applying to X college or Y scholarship.  Professors spend a great deal of time on these letters, so you really don’t want to waste their time.  Conversely, once we have written a letter for you, we have it on file.  So, if you have established a good rapport with a professor and have respectfully sought their support, they will be more than happy to supply you with as many letters as needed.  All we need to do is print out copies of what we have on file (and update our letters if necessary and if you provide us with more information).