You need a letter for graduate school, a job and internship, a scholarship, or something else. How do you get a good letter?
Ask someone who is in a position to know you well. It is fine to ask via email—you don’t need to request a meeting so that you can ask face to face. Avoid putting letter writers’ names in online application forms before they have agreed to write for you.
Most of the people who write a lot of letters are very busy, so provide enough lead time for the writers to schedule your letter when it is convenient for them (at least two weeks).
Your letter writers will find it helpful if you consider the following guidelines:
- Say what term and year you met the letter writer, which classes you took with this person (or all the circumstances under which you connected with them: “I took ____ class with you and you advised my independent study” “You supervised me when I was a work-study student and you recommended me for an internship.” Teachers work with a lot of students and some reminders in this vein can be helpful. Also, remind the writer what your major projects were about. You can even attach the projects if the writer might find it useful to refer to them.
- For a job-related letter, send a current copy of your résumé or CV.
- Explain with some specificity why you want to pursue this opportunity. You may want to share a draft of your letter of intent if you are required to write one. This will help your letter writer frame what she has to say about you.
- Mention specific aspects of your past work or performance that the letter writer could focus on. The letter writer may ignore you, but at least you will have provided guidance.
- Provide a list of all the letters you will need, with due dates so that the letter writer can check off the sites as letters are sent.
- Some letter writers will want you to include in the list a full mailing address for each of your letters, even for those that are to be submitted electronically (some faculty will use these addresses in formal letters on department letterhead). Addresses can generally be found via the "Contact Us" link of a given organization's or program's Web site.
- If there are one or more letters on your list that can only be submitted via mail as hard copies, please mark this so that the writer has time to allow for mailing in order to make the deadline.
- If there are differences in emphasis between letters (i.e., at one school, you wish to study literature; at another, critical theory), please make this clear in the above list.
- If you are a week away from the deadline and the letter has not been submitted yet, send the letter writer a friendly reminder; beyond that, please be patient and understand that your letter-writer may have a set date/time in mind for submitting one or more letters.
Most letters are submitted electronically.
After you know what you will be doing, be sure to let your letter writers know. They will want to know what became of that opportunity or where you ended up.