Letters of Recommendation

How to Ask For--and get--Strong Letters of Recommendation

1) Approach potential recommenders first as advisers. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Discuss your larger interests and goals. Ask for their advice about potential projects, reading, courses of study, graduate programs... These conversations will be invaluable in themselves, but they will also allow you to judge who is likely to be your most enthusiastic recommenders; these meetings will also allow those who write for you to write more informed and more personally engaged letters.

2) Ask someone who knows you well and who will be able to discuss in specific detail what distinguishes you.

3) Ask well in advance of the deadline. Three to four weeks may be adequate. But it is often helpful to consult with the recommender to see how much lead-time is needed. This is especially true for letters for major fellowships and for letters to be written over the summer.

4) Ask: "Do you feel you know me (or my academic record, my leadership qualities) well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for the X scholarship?" You've now given the professor the opportunity to decline gracefully. If the answer is "no," don't push. This inquiry may be done via email-if you already have an established relationship with the potential recommender.

5) Schedule an appointment with your recommenders to discuss the scholarship, its selection criteria, your most recent and commendable activities, and to suggest what each recommender might emphasize. (You may want to let your recommenders know who your other recommenders are, so that they can write letters that complement rather than repeat one another.)

6) Bring to this meeting: 7) Finally, be sure to write your recommenders a note of thanks and let them know what happens.

Adapted from a handout provided by Jane Curlin, Willamette University
Other sources of information: Suggestions for letter writers can be found from WPI.
This page is part of my advice to Lehigh students.
Last modified 21 July 2017 by Brian D. Davison.