Need a Letter of Recommendation?
In the vast majority of cases, I am very happy to write recommendation letters, so please don’t be shy about asking for one (or many more than one)! However, if you want me to write a letter or letters for you there are several things that I need. I realize that the list is somewhat long, but just remember that the more information you can give me, the better a letter I can write!
Please also note that when you ask me to write a letter for you, I will be rather blunt about how strong a letter I think I can write for you. This is just to make sure that you are thinking about who the best, most-strategically-useful, letter writer would be for your particular application. I might, for example, say that I can write you a very strong letter – which is great! On the otherhand, I might tell you that the letter I could write for you wouldn’t be very in-depth when it comes to the skills relevant to what you are applying for. Remember that even if I say something like that, it doesn’t mean that I’m saying I won’t write it, and it also doesn’t mean you aren’t a strong applicant and awesome person. It might, for example, just mean we didn’t spend enough time together for me to have a large base of detailed knowledge about your personal strengths. However, regardless, in all cases, I’ll do my best to write the best letter for you that I can.
Regardless, here are the things I need to write the best letter that I can:
- All of the information listed below should be provided electronically (e.g., in pdf/MS-word/text-file/body-of-email form) at least 2 weeks prior to the deadline.
- I will only write confidential letters unless there are exceptional reasons for doing otherwise.
- If you want me to write multiple letters, please give me the information for all of them at the same time if at all possible. This will help me to ensure that I don’t accidentally forget to submit one or more letters due to requests being buried in my inbox. (Note: Med school letters all go through Interfolio, so this isn’t relevant for that type of letter.)
Information I need to write a letter:
I need the following information, in electronic form (e.g., in pdf/MS-word/text-file/body-of-email form) that is sent to me in a single email. Please do not give me paper copies - it’s far easier for me to keep track of digital copies!
- Your full name along with the name that you call yourself and the pronouns that you would want used in your application materials. Why do I ask for your pronouns? See here.
- A description of what you are applying for: is it some sort of academic honor? Medical school? Dental School? Graduate school? This information is necessary so that I can provide the correct level and variety of detail.
- When you ask me for a letter, please explain why you are asking me to write a letter for you (i.e., why me specifically?) and who else will be writing letters for you. This helps me to adjust the content of my letter appropriately so that it works well with the rest of your application materials.
- A list of schools (or whatever) to which you will be applying and due dates for the letters.
- If relevant, a list of the URLs or email addresses where I should send the letters. In general, I need to know how I am to submit the letters.
- If you are applying to med/dental/vet school, do you have a specialization in mind at this time? (For example, oncology, pediatric medicine, large-animal medicine, reconstructive dentistry…) What made you decide on this specialization?
- A copy of your resume and/or CV. This helps me double-check small details in my letter for accuracy, and it also might remind me of additional good things to talk about in my letter.
- If there’s a specific person to whom the letter should be addressed, be sure to give the name and title of that person who will receive the completed letter, if relevant. This is generally not necessary for generic grad school applications, but might be relevant for jobs working with a particular person, very niche scholarships, etc.
- If there are any additional forms that need to be filled out or signed beyond the standard letter-submission process, please provide them with information about you (your address, birth date, etc.) already filled in. (This is not relevant for most letter submissions.)
In addition, I strongly recommend sending me the following materials as well:
These are things that I don’t necessarily need when writing a letter, but if provided, they may help me write a letter that better ties in to your other application materials.
- A bullet-point list of things you would specifically like me to talk about in my letter. This isn’t meant to be a draft letter for me, but should be things that I should remember when I write a letter for you. This can include standard things from your CV (how I got to know you, prizes won, etc.) but should also include relevant anecdotes to make useful stories about you and your work (i.e., received perfect scores on all exams, first author of a research paper as a junior, etc.). This is not the time for modesty: you need to remind me of how amazing you are so I can emphasize this in my letter!
- An unofficial copy of your current transcript (e.g., just a PDF from the website).
- MCAT/GRE scores (if available and relevant).
- Your personal statement(s) / application essay(s).
- If you completed a major project in one of my courses (e.g., a capstone project or large analysis project), you might want give me a copy of the relevant paper you wrote if you’d like me to talk about it in my letter.
Adapted from the guidelines by Brian O’Shea