Guidelines for requesting a letter of recommendation.... Last Revised January 2006
1. Who to ask. Request letters from people who have enough knowledge about you as a potential graduate student or employee that they can comment meaningfully on your potential. Being a student in a professor's class does not generally provide sufficient basis for this knowledge, unless it was a small seminar class with a high level of contact with the professor--and you did well in the class. Ideally, you will have worked as a research assistant in the person's lab, been supervised in an honor's project, and/or taken multiple courses with him or her. If you did a practicum in the community that relates to your career goals, your supervisor for the practicum might be a good choice. You should also ask the person whether or not they feel they can recommend you. You only want positive letters! If your performance in a class wasn't particularly impressive, don't ask that professor for a letter. If you have worked closely with a graduate student, you could also ask the student if they would be willing to collaborate with their advisor on a letter that would go out under the professor's name.
2. Timing. Contact the person for a recommendation well in advance of the due date for completing the letter. A month is ideal. Keep in mind that some people may turn you down or fail to respond because they are out of town, too busy, disorganized, or just don't feel they can write you a strong letter.
3. Recommendation for What? Make sure it is clear what position you are applying to, or, for graduate school, what type of program you are applying to (Masters in Social Work, Ph.D. program in developmental psychology, PsyD program in counseling psychology, etc., Law School, etc.).
4. Folder with Forms and Envelopes. Provide recommenders with a folder with all necessary forms, envelopes (addressed and stamped) and clear instructions about deadlines for *sending* each letter (allow at least a week before letter is due at the school or employer, especially if due date is around Christmas, when mail volume is very high) or, if letter is to be returned to you in a sealed, signed, envelope, the deadline for completing the letter and contacting you to pick it up. Be sure to include YOUR contact info (e-mail address, phone number) in the folder in case recommender has questions.
5. Other Supportive Materials. For help in writing the letter, provide recommenders with a copy of your personal statement (draft is fine if you are still working on it), a current resumé/vita, and a transcript (you can just print out your record from DuckWeb), and GRE scores if you have them (some forms ask the recommender to comment on whether the GRE scores seem to be an accurate reflection of the person's aptitude). Ideally, you should also arrange an appointment to talk over your goals and plans with each recommender. If there are flaws in your academic record (a freshman year of Cs and Ds, for example!) give the recommender the story behind the flaws. Be sure each recommender knows what your research interests and career goals are if you are applying to graduate school.
6. Follow Up. A week or so before the first deadline, give recommenders a polite phone or e-mail reminder. Your letter may be lost in a big "to-do" pile, and a reminder will help move it to the top.