Letters of Recommendation
Undoubtedly at some point, you will be asked to provide one or more letters of recommendation for an application to a study abroad program, summer research program, internship, graduate school, fellowship, scholarship, or other opportunities. Below are some suggestions on how to choose letter writers and what information to provide those letter writers that have said yes and when to provide that information. You should, of course, talk to each letter writer individually to find out what other information they want from you and the best way for you to communicate that information to them.
Choosing Letter Writers
In choosing letter writers, you should strive to choose people who have gotten to know you well enough that they can say more about you than just what grade you received. Depending on what type of program you are applying for, the type of information the writer can communicate about you is very important. For example, if you are applying for a study abroad program and the application asks for a letter from someone who can speak directly to your foreign language ability, a professor from whom you have taken a language course would be a good choice. Or, if you are applying for graduate school, having a letter writer who can discuss your research potential is very useful. Here are some interactions you may have had with a professor that make them a candidate for writing you a letter.
- You took one or more of the professor’s classes
- You participated in research with the professor.
- You worked on an independent study with the professor.
- You served as a grader or learning assistant for the professor.
We recommend you talk to your advisor or someone else in the department to explore possible letter writers if you are unsure about whom to choose or what type of information might be valuable for letter writers to communicate in your recommendation.
When to Ask
Ideally, you should give at least one month’s notice for letter writing requests. There may be times when you find about an opportunity late and need a letter very quickly. In this case, some letter writers may have to say “no”.
Information to Provide
If your letter writer says “yes” (don’t be offended if they say “no”; they most likely feel they do not know you well enough to write a strong letter), you should provide them with the following information:
- A list of classes you have taken with that person and what block/year you took them
- A copy of your most recent resume or c.v.
- An unofficial copy of your transcript (a screenshot from Banner is usually fine – check with your letter writer)
- A draft of your statement of purpose
- A document clearly listing all schools/jobs/programs/scholarships/fellowships you are applying for, including:
- Name and address of letter recipient
- Deadline for the letter (these should be put in chronological order with the earliest deadline listed first)
- Directions about mailing the letter (emailed, posted on
website, mailed, given to you to include with other application materials, etc.) Indicationof your top choices, if applicable
Strong letters of recommendation are very detailed and often comment from the letter writer’s perspective on things that you wrote about in your statement of purpose or similar application documents. For example, if you talk in your application about taking a class abroad, then a letter writer might include in their letter that you are well prepared for the class (because you have taken the prerequisites at CC) and that the class would complement your classes from CC because it may not be offered here. A letter writer might request additional information to write the strongest letter possible, e.g., a paragraph about your motivation to apply to a program and what you are hoping to learn, a list of courses that you have taken or other experiences that prepare you to succeed in the program, etc. If you have any questions or are unsure what information to provide, just ask your letter writer. Once you hear back from the program you have applied to, it is also nice to let your letter writers know how things turned out!
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