Requesting Faculty References

This resource provides best practices for letters of reference — both for those requesting them and those writing them. Review the resources below to make sure your letters will be effective and on time, and that the process will run smoothly for all involved.



For Faculty and Other Mentors

The resources below offer guidelines and information that may be helpful as you prepare to write letters of reference for students and graduates.

For Students and Graduates

Please note: We recommend that you allow at least eight weeks for a recommender to prepare a letter of reference.

  • Ask for references from people who know you best and whose own expertise and experience are most relevant to what you’re applying to do. For example, if you’re applying for an internship or job, you might request a reference from someone who’s supervised you in similar work and/or can attest to your transferable skills/experience. For grad school you should ask for references from faculty and/or other research mentors in a related field. 

  • If multiple letters are needed for a single application, think about how all those writers know you and the larger picture they give together. 

  • Career Education advisors are here to help you decide whom best to ask to write in support of your application: simply book an advising appointment to talk over application strategy.

  • If possible, ask at least 6–8 weeks before your deadline so the recommender will have plenty of time to prepare their letter. [If you’re planning to apply for fellowships with deadlines in the late summer or early fall, or to graduate or professional degree programs with early fall deadlines, it’s helpful to mention this to potential faculty recommenders before the end of the spring semester, or via email early in the summer, so that they can plan ahead for one of the busiest seasons in the year.]

  • If your circumstances require shorter notice, ask your recommenders whether they can meet your deadline, but be prepared that they may say no.

  • When requesting your letter, arrange to meet with your recommender to discuss your plans if possible. During your conversation, let them know what you’re applying for and why: what are your interests and goals as related to this opportunity?

  • If it is not possible to meet due to time zones or schedule conflicts, be sure to provide this context to your potential recommender when requesting a letter via email.

  • If you’re applying for multiple opportunities, you may be asking an individual for multiple letters. Let your recommender know ahead of time what you’re thinking of applying for and what the deadlines are, and to ask them what they might be willing and able to do to support you.

Remember, while your recommender is responsible for composing the letter, it is your responsibility to manage the overall process. Consult this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education for guidance on how to do so. 

When requesting a letter of recommendation, provide your recommender with the following:

  1. The specific deadline(s) by which the recommendation(s) must be submitted

  2. Clear, concise instructions for submitting the recommendation letter(s)

  3. Link(s) to the program, job, or other opportunity to which you are applying

  4. You may also wish to provide some or all of the following, to help your recommender write a strong, specific letter for you:

    • A description of the job, internship, fellowship, or other opportunity to which you are applying. If you are applying to graduate school, be sure to tell the faculty the name of the institution and degree program.

    • Your up-to-date resume. You might wish to add a brief narrative highlighting talents, skills, and experiences that you want them to be aware of when writing your letter.

    • Your transcript, list of courses taken with a faculty recommender, and grades received.

    • Copies of particularly good papers or exams submitted to your faculty recommender, with their comments and grades. You may want to call attention to upward trends in your work, or instances in which you took your professor’s feedback and grew as a writer and/or scholar.

    • A copy of your personal statement, if you’ve written one for the application.

When the process is complete, be sure to send a thank you note to your advisor and keep them updated on the outcome of your application.

…someone says they won’t write a letter for me?

It is important to note that sometimes, a potential recommender may decline to write on your behalf. They may feel they do not know you well enough, that they do not have enough time to do so, or that your record is not strong enough for admission to a given program. If that is the case, thank them for considering your request and consider a different recommender.

…someone asks me to draft my own letter?

A potential recommender may ask you to draft your own letter if they do not feel that they have sufficient time to do so. You should not write your own letter. However, you can provide additional materials to facilitate the process for them, hopefully making it easier for them to write the letter.

In a single document of 1-2 pages, you can put together the following material:

  • A reminder of the program/opportunity you’re applying for and why you are pursuing it (how it aligns with your interests and goals)

  • A brief summary of your strengths and experiences you are proud of and that relate to the application

  • 1-3 examples of projects, papers, or research you have done with that recommender, what you achieved in that work, and any positive feedback you received from them on that work at the time

  • A summary of highlights from your resume that showcase skills or qualities that will be relevant to the current application 

If, upon receiving this document, the recommender is still unable to write the letter for you, then they may not be the best fit for this particular application. Career Education advisors can help you decide whom else to ask to write in support of your application: simply book an advising appointment. Capable as you are, you don’t have to go it alone!