Asking for a Letter of Recommendation 

Whatever you are applying for, obtaining a strong letter of recommendation is a key component of whether you will be successful. Asking for a letter can be intimidating. What if the professor says no? Or is very busy?  Here is information to share with your letter writer to make it easier for them to say “Yes” AND to write a great letter:  

  • Brief description of and a link to the mission or purpose of the scholarship, fellowship, or position you are pursuing  

  • A list of or link to the selection criteria 

  • Current resume or curriculum vitae (CV)

  • A paragraph describing how they might remember you. For example, don’t assume they remember that paper you wrote for them a year ago—tell them the name of the paper and what it was on. If they were an internship or other supervisor, remind them of something you did that was unique. Important: don’t say the same thing to every letter writer! You want to help them to personalize their letter, so give them details that are specific to your relationship with them.

  • Concise descriptions of relevant academic, scholarly or professional research or other projects.

  • A draft of the application essay is ideal, but if that is not possible, share an outline or summary of your ideas. Do NOT wait until you have a perfectly crafted final essay!

  • If the letter writer is must submit a FORM rather than a letter, be sure they know this early on. Common examples include the Fulbright ETA and the Critical Language Scholarship. Send them a link to a sample form to prepare them.

  • Clear formatting instructions

  • Clear deadline. If there is a campus deadline before the national deadline, be sure they know it!  

What if the deadline is approaching and they haven’t submitted their letter yet? 

A polite reminder is generally appreciated. You can always send them an updated version of your application essay(s) as a reason for the reminder.  

What if I’m not sure the person I’m asking will say yes? 

Give your letter writer an out. Here’s a sample approach: “I am applying for X. They have asked for recommendation letters to be sent by X date. You know my work well from our past experience X, so I was wondering if you would be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me. I know that you have a lot going on right now, so I understand if the timing does not work.” (Sample approach is from Obtaining Outstanding Recommendations in Inside HigherEd.  

What if a professor has already written several letters for me. Should I ask someone else? 

No! If they have written several letters for you, they already have a letter they can easily adapt for another opportunity. You want to ask the people who are going to write the best letters, so don’t worry about asking for more than one letter. Of course, be sure to thank them after each letter submission, and let them know the outcome!