By Madeleine Chalifoux, ChBE Alumnus:
Asking for a letter of recommendation can be intimidating. If you feel this way, you’re not alone! However, whether it is a professor, advisor, or boss, these people are here for you and want to see you succeed. So, don’t be too nervous to ask for a letter- these people are here for you!
The purpose of recommendation letters is for potential employers, graduate schools, or scholarship committees to get a more holistic idea of you as an application and, most importantly, as a person. They are looking for a deeper insight into who you are, beyond the information that is conveyed through your resume and on your transcript. For this reason, it is important to develop strong relationships with faculty and other working professionals early in your college career. This way, these people who know you well both inside and outside of the classroom can tell a story about who you are as a student and individual.
Here are some simple pointers to follow when asking for a recommendation letter so that you feel confident making the request, and so that you can get the most out of the recommendation letter:
- Ask ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask for a letter of recommendation. Just like you, professors and other professionals are busy and have many competing deadlines. Ask several weeks (or months, if possible) in advance so that your reference has enough time to reflect deeply on what they will write, draft a letter, and return later to edit that letter. Generally, the more time you give a reference to write a letter, the more in-depth and introspective it will be.
- Provide information and materials. Generally, it is acceptable to email a potential reference to ask if they would be willing to provide a letter for you. In your email, state the reason why you are submitting the application, briefly remind them of your academic or work history, and mention why you think they would be a good reference for your application. Then, suggest scheduling a brief meeting with them to talk more about your future goals and about your resume and experience to date. At the end of your email, make sure to attach your resume, a copy of your transcript if it is relevant to the application, and any additional information about the position you are applying for. Most importantly: make sure to include the application deadline in your initial email. If the reference responds with a “yes,” you can then follow up with more specific application submission instructions.
- Follow up and keep in touch. Once your reference has agreed to provide you with a letter, be sure to express your gratitude for their support during the application process. Also let them know that you are happy to answer any additional questions that they might have for you during the letter writing process. As the deadline nears, do not hesitate to follow up once or twice with a gentle reminder. When doing so, also take the opportunity to update them on your progress throughout the semester. Since reference often have several letters to write at a time, it is important to stay on top of your submission status so that deadlines do not slip through the cracks. Thus, when you reach out with reminders, you can simultaneously use this opportunity to maintain a positive and current relationship with your reference.
All in all, applications can be daunting, and with the added stress of having to ask for letters of recommendation, students often feel overwhelmed. However, you should never fear asking for a recommendation letter because this is why faculty, professors, and other adults in your life are here: to help you succeed. Nonetheless, it is important to note that sometimes reference do not submit letters until after application deadlines for various reasons. If this happens, don’t fret! This happens quite often and therefore applications generally do not penalize students for recommendation letters that are turned in after the deadline. Letters are usually separate components of the application, so it is almost always possible to submit your portion of the application before your letters are submitted. Simply ensure that your part of the application is submitted on time and remember to stay in contact with your reference throughout the process!
Best of luck on your next application, whether it be for graduate school, a new job, a campus scholarship, or an international fellowship! I have no doubt that you will achieve great things!