Reference Letters


I am frequently asked to write reference letters for students.  These may be for graduate schools, internships, or prospective employers.  Sometimes it is for admission to graduate school. I see this as an important part of my job.  However students need to plan ahead and think carefully about this process.  Here are some tips every faculty member will recognize.

•Plan ahead.  Request your letter at least two weeks in advance.  Last minute requests leave a poor impression.  If you have put this off till the last minute, you are transferring the stress of this tardiness to your referee -- which may lead to an unsatisfying reference letter. 

•Select carefully.  Choose a reference that you trust and who knows you well.  This will guarantee a quality letter that will serve you well.  If you are unsure that you will be remembered, introduce yourself personally with some notes about classes we had together.

•Make clear how this reference will be handled.  Am I to write an email to someone?  A hard-copy letter?  Will the graduate school email me a link to their online reference site?  Increasingly the latter is most common. 

•Indicate how many letters you are requesting.  Are you applying to one graduate school or twelve?  The faculty member may have limits on how many references can be written.

•You want to prep your reference as much as possible.  Therefore supply him/her with a package of information about you that will explain your background and your dreams.  This package should include (1) a well-written letter of intention which includes a word of generous thanks, (2) a professional resume, (3) and a copy of your transcript (informal is fine).  Many faculty appreciate this in hard copy because it is easier to handle.  Others prefer an email submission.  Simply ask what they prefer.

•This package needs to leave a strong overall impression of who you are.  In some cases, if I have not seen a student for a couple of years, they may email me a current photograph in order to reestablish an “emotional connection”.  These are all wise strategies.

•When the reference is completed send the faculty member a letter or card saying “thank you.”  You never know when you may need to call on this reference again. 


Reference letters are a vital part of your academic connections.