Letters of Recommendation
When requesting letters of recommendation, it is important to provide your professor with the necessary information in an organized and timely fashion. This document will help you do just that! Following these instructions will make the process easier and result in the best possible letters.
Make your request three weeks before the deadline. Give your professor the information requested below at least three weeks prior to the deadline, collected together in a folder or large envelope, or submitted electroncally (if available). It is best to provide all your materials at once.
Highlight your interactions with the professor. Remind your professor what classes you have taken from him or her, any special projects you completed, or significant positions you held, such as teaching assistant. Your professor may not remember all of these things, and they are not easily found by other means. For instance, your transcript doesn’t display the professors who taught your courses.
Describe your past experiences and future plans. The more your professors know about your accomplishments, interests, and future plans the better letter they will be able to write. Often this information takes the form of a “personal statement” you have already written for your application to the graduate school, summer program, or scholarship, etc…or you may need to type something up for your professor.
- FERPA waiver form
A signed student waiver form: http://www.stolaf.edu/offices/registrar/ferpa-cover.pdf It is almost always best to waive your right to access the letter, so the recipient knows the recommendation was provided confidentially.
- A list of all the schools or programs receiving your letter, and their deadlines.
For each letter, list the deadline, type of program (e.g., summer research, graduate school, Fulbright scholarship, etc.), degree level (masters, Ph.D., etc…) and subspecialty (e.g., behavioral ecology, enumerative combinatorics, biostatistics, quantum mechanics, clinical psychology, behavioral neuroscience, etc.). Download a template checklist to fill out here.
- Logistical support. For each letter, make sure to give the professor:
- any waiver or special form (either online or on paper) that the school/program requires (many schools have rating forms that must be completed by the professor). Fill out as much of each form as possible, including your address, the professor’s address (1520 St. Olaf Ave), etc…
- addressed, stamped envelope for each place that will receive the recommendation. If a given school wants you to send all of your materials together, be sure to ask that the professor give you a letter in a sealed and signed envelope. Make sure to write that school’s name on the envelope for your convenience.
- Urls or email addresses if your letter must be sent electronically.
- Organized, written information about yourself (e.g., past activities, accomplishments, future goals, etc…). It will help them if you bluntly point out your strengths. Don’t be modest here!
The list below is not meant to be comprehensive. You may have other information to provide. And some of the items may not be relevant or necessary. Check with your professor if you have any questions.
- A copy of your transcript or degree audit.
- A list of classes you have taken from your professor or research conducted with your professor (providing both names and dates)
- Particular personal qualities (e.g., motivation, perseverance) and skills or accomplishments you demonstrated (the excellent paper you wrote in their class, the leadership you demonstrated in a group project, etc.).
- A copy of your personal statement or short essay discussing your strengths, experiences, and goals -- even if it's in a rough draft form. Answer the “Why?” question: What are your interests and long-term goals, and how does this school/program help you accomplish those goals? If the answer to this question is unique to each school or program, consider customizing your statements for each place and making your professor aware of important distinctions.
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae, or a list of relevant experiences, activities, honors, scholarships, departmental involvement, etc…
- Any relevant test scores (GRE for grad school, MCAT for med school...)