Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Advice on Asking Professors For Recommendations

Faculty in the English Department are very happy to write these letters for you. Please keep in mind, though, how much time it takes a faculty member to write a good letter (and keep in mind as well that most faculty are teaching several courses, serving on committees, writing several books at the same time ... please give them adequate time to write!)

Here are some suggestions for obtaining a good letter, taken from the Knox College English Department website:

Choose wisely

  • Ask a professor whom you have a relationship with and who will able to include personal details and examples.
  • Consider asking whether your professor will be able to write a detailed and positive letter of recommendation.
  • Know that it is customary to waive your right to see letters of recommendation. If you choose not to waive this right, consult your professor about whether he or she is still willing to write the letter.
  • Have a back-up plan. It is not unusual for professors to decline, usually because of time constraints, conflicts of interest, or a lack of relevant information to draw upon.

Ask early

  • Give your professor no less than one month to write a letter of recommendation. Six weeks before the deadline is not too early to ask.
  • Ask for a letter of recommendation in person. Requests via email or telephone are easier to miss.

Make it easy

  • Once your professor has agreed to write a letter, write a cover letter that explains exactly what the letter is for, where it is to be sent, and what the deadline is. (Remember to include your telephone number and email address in case your professor has any questions.)
  • Attach the following to the form or cover letter:
    1.  Any forms that must accompany the letter. You should complete as much as possible on your own.
    2. Any brochures or handouts that describe the program, position, or award.
    3. A résumé that includes your educational and employment background.
    4. A statement reminding your professor of all the supportive things he or she could say about you. In what ways have you exceeded academic expectations? What relevant extra-curricular projects are you involved in? What specific examples can your professor cite?
    5. A statement of purpose, if you are applying for a program or position, explaining why you should be chosen and what you hope to accomplish.
    6. A sample of your best work, preferably work that the professor has commented on before.
    7. A stamp (faculty prefer to use envelopes with college letterhead).

Follow up

  • If the letter has not arrived a week before the deadline, consider contacting your professor to ask whether he or she needs more information from you. You are responsible for making sure that all letters actually arrive.
  • Consider sending a thank-you note to your professor.
  • Let your professor know what happens.