Here is some useful information as you prepare to ask someone (myself included) about letters of recommendation.
WHO DO I ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?
- if you are applying to graduate school, you should get letters primarily from the professors in the area in which you wish to concentrate. (i.e., don’t ask an Ancient specialist and a Medievalist to recommend you for a program where you stated that you will major in Contemporary). If you need three recommendations, then of course one recommender might be outside the area.
- it is ideal to have taken more than one course with your recommender and/or to know them through another activity in school. The better your professor knows you, the better they’ll be able to write for you.
- if you are taking a class with someone for the first time, they may be hesitant to recommend you if they have not seen your final work yet. Talk to the professor about this as you may be able to hand in a paper early for them to evaluate, but do not expect them to write for you in this instance.
DO YOU WRITE LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?
- I do. I request that a student give me at least two weeks advanced notice to write a letter. I ask students to fill out a form (sent upon request) in as much detail as possible because it helps me write a stronger letter.
WHEN SHOULD I ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?
- IN ADVANCE! If you know that you are applying to graduate school, even if you aren’t sure where yet, go line up your recommenders now. In general, you should be asking at a bare minimum of two weeks in advance. Sometimes you find out about something last minute, but in most cases you should have time to ask several weeks prior to the due date.
- As soon as you are able, get recommendation forms and/or emails from the schools for e-recs out to your recommenders.
- If you are taking a course and you do very well, ask the professor at the end of the semester if they would write for you in the future – even if you don’t know if you apply to grad school – it’s a way of starting that relationship with them. ‘I’m thinking of applying for grad school next year in this area – can I come talk to you about it sometime?’
DO YOU LIKE TO BE REMINDED ABOUT DEADLINES FOR LETTERS?
- Yes! Polite reminders are helpful–I have a lot going on!