What to Provide when Requesting Letters of Recommendation

If you are an undergraduate, and you have not asked for many letters of recommendation before, you may want to read my page on Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation to learn more about (1) the purpose of a letter of recommendation, (2) how to select your letter writers, and (3) how to ask for a letter recommendation.

Asking Me for a Letter of Recommendation

Because I am asked by many people to write letters, I have some guidelines that I ask you to follow. These are designed to make the process easier for both of us as well as help me write the best letter possible for you.

When first asking me to write a letter

  1. Please ask me at least four weeks prior to the deadline for the letter. If you give me less notice, there is a good chance I will decline the request, since a rushed letter does neither of us any good.

  2. Tell me why I am an appropriate person to write letter on your behalf. If we don't have a current working relationship, remind me of how I know you and describe the professional interactions we've had (e.g., were you in my class, did you work as a grader for me, were you active in Pi Mu Epsilon, did you volunteer for CHAMP, have we interacted at colloquia or other department events?). If you were in my class, then typically I can write a strong letter only if you got a B+ or higher. Students who received a grade of B will need to make a compelling argument for why I should write a letter. Anyone with a grade of B- or below in my class should seek another letter writer.

  3. Give me some specific information about what is needed for the letter. Let me know the kind of program you are applying to (e.g., graduate school, a summer research program, a scholarship or fellowship). In addition to the deadline, let me know if there are any special instructions for the letter writers or anything in particular that letter writers are asked to comment on.

Once I've Agreed to Write You a Letter

The following are a few things I ask you to do once I've agreed to write a letter for you. Keep in mind: It is in your best interest to make your busy letter writer's job as easy as possible.
  1. Give me the deadline and instructions for submission. Most programs will have you give them my email address, and I will then be sent an email with instructions on how to upload your letter. If there is some other way the letter must be submitted (e.g., emailing it to a particular address, physically mailing it), give me complete instructions.

  2. Send me a copy of anything you plan to submit with your application. Personal statements as well as a résumé, CV, or list of academic accomplishments are especially useful.

  3. Almost any program to which you apply will have a description of the goals of their program and what criteria are used for selection. Send me a copy of this description. This is possibly the most valuable information you can give me to help me write you an effective letter. It tells me exactly what the program is looking for and what they want me to address.

  4. Tell me your long term career goals, and how participation in this program or job will contribute to you attaining them.

  5. Your letter of recommendation should be confidential, which means you should not be able to read what I write. For most applications, confidentiality is the default option. If your application gives you the option of choosing whether your letters are confidential or not, select the confidential option. This makes your application stronger.


  1. Once I have submitted your letter, I'll email you to let you know that I've done so. (I'll do this even if I upload it to an automated system that send you a confirmation you when I submit.) If you haven't heard from me a few days before the deadline, a friendly email reminder is welcome.

  2. Let me know the outcome of your applications. I am interested to know how it turns out, and what choices you make about your future.

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