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Sound Writing

Subsection 10.2.2 Your Suggested Timeline

List 10.2.2. When and How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
  1. When you arrive at college, build relationships with faculty.
    Visiting a professor’s office hours is a great way to get more out of your education, and it is also a great way to build a relationship with a professor, especially if you haven’t worked closely with a professor in any other context yet. Remember that you can read more about Talking to Professors and that office hours exist for this purpose.
  2. When you start thinking about applications, identify which professor(s) you’d most like to write you a letter.
    Consider the three perspectives described in Subsection 10.2.1, and make sure you can answer the questions in Your Perspective.
  3. When there are at least three weeks left before the application due date, request letter of recommendation, in person if possible, from your “top choice letter writer.”
    Explain what program you are applying for, why you are interested in it, and what made you want to ask that professor in particular for a letter. If the letter of recommendation is a central part of your application, make sure to think about the request from Your Professor’s Perspective, or directly ask, “could you write me a strong letter of recommendation?”
  4. When you receive confirmation that a professor will write you a letter, send them the following information, even if they did not specifically ask for it:
    • A description of what you are applying for (a link to a website is fine), along with why you are interested in the program or how it fits into your plan for a future career
    • All of the application materials you need to submit for your application (e.g. a personal statement, cover letter, or application essay), so that the professor knows how their contribution to your application fits in with the rest of the application materials
    • An updated resume or curriculum vitae (CV). See Section 11.4 for advice about making a resume or CV.
    • A transcript
    If you’re asking one person for letters for a variety of different programs, make sure to consider the logistics of asking for multiple letters.
    Do not add a professor’s name to online forms or send them letter-writing material until they say that they are willing to write you a letter. Being “invitold” to write a letter is no fun for them!
  5. When there there are 3–5 days left before the application is due, remind your professor that their letter is due soon.
    A short email that reminds them about (1) which letter is due, and (2) the date and time that their letter is due is great. One reminder a few days in advance should suffice, but if the due date passes and the program still has not received their letter, you should reach out again to confirm that they submitted it.
  6. When you submit your application, say thank you!
    A hand-written card never goes out of style in this circumstance (See Section 11.6). After you hear back from a program about whether or not you were accepted, share the news with your professor. If you’re choosing between multiple programs, let your professor know which offer you accept, and stay in touch with them. Maintaining a network of professors who could write you a letter or be a character reference is useful long after you graduate college, so keep in touch with the professors that you know best.

Tip 10.2.3. Logistics of Asking for Multiple Letters.

If you’re asking a letter writer for multiple letters, give them a consolidated way to keep track of all the letters you’re asking them to write. It’s especially important that they can easily see (1) which programs you’re applying for, (2) when each letter is due, (3) how to submit each letter, and (4) any special instructions about letter content. One good way to do this is to make a table with one row for each program.