ASKING FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
During your time at the University of Utah, chances are high that you will need to ask someone for a letter of recommendation to support an application (for a scholarship, a job, an internship, etc.). To support your success in these endeavors, we have put together the following advice, which will help you make most out of your relationships with your professors and get the best possible letters of recommendation for your applications.
- Put thought into your choice of a reference.
Ask someone who you know and who knows you. Ideally you will have had some direct personal contact with your letter writer. However, you may not feel confident that your professor knows you very well, especially in the case of online classes or large lectures. Please know that your professors understand the challenge of approaching others to requests letters of recommendation; not only have we been in your shoes when we were undergraduates ourselves, but even now, as professional academics, we continue to need letters written in support of our work for various reasons. Letters of recommendation are a normal part of academic life, and it is part of our job to provide them for you. If you have shown yourself to be a good student in a professor’s class, it is likely they will be willing to meet with you in person or on Zoom to get to know you and your strengths better, in order that they may write a better-informed letter for you.
- Ask early.
If possible, allow at least two weeks before the letter is due. Everyone understands that emergencies happen, and two weeks’ notice is not always possible. However, it is always best. A hurried letter is not likely to be as thoughtful or enthusiastic as is a considered one. If you are emailing your request, make sure to compose your message with care and respect, specifying the class or other setting in which you were acquainted with the professor.
- Gentle reminders to your professor are appreciated.
Professors are only human and are very busy, so tasks do sometimes slip through the cracks. If you notice on the scholarship application system that your professor has not submitted the letter that they agreed to write for you, a gentle reminder is appropriate. A single email near the due date should suffice.
- Provide the professor with complete, written information about yourself and the scholarship for which you are applying.
Your professor will need specific information about you, the reason you are asking for the letter, and when and where the letter should be submitted. The more information you provide, the better: Attach your CV/resume and the personal statement or other writing you are submitting with your application. Make sure that they have easy access to information about your activities, including academics, service, and campus involvement. You may offer to provide a transcript to the professor (see below for FERPA rules regarding this). If it has been a year or more since you studied under the professor, consider attaching a sample of the work that you completed with them, to refresh their memory. So that your professor might write a letter tailored to the scholarship or other opportunity, provide information about the criteria or the focus of the scholarship (service, academic, etc.). If the scholarship form gives you the option, it’s always better to waive your right to see the letter. The scholarship committee assumes that this will encourage a more candid letter from the professor, and such a letter will carry more weight.
- FERPA rules require that the professor get a signed release from a student to report his grades or any educational information linked to him in letters of reference.
- Consider the letter of recommendation your professor has written to be a valuable investment that they have made in you and in your academic success.
After the process is over, send a thank-you note to your professor. This acknowledges the time the professor spent (thirty minutes to an hour). It also paves the way for you, should you need to ask for another letter in the future. Later, send your professor an email, letting them know the result of your application. We are invested in you and appreciate being able to celebrate your successes with you.
– Adapted from advice written by Carolan Ownby, LEAP Program