Notes From the First Year: How to Get a Letter of Recommendation

Author: Fick '20, Annie

First Year advisors help students with letters of recommendation for a wide variety of applications, from summer study abroad to fellowships and internships. Their tips for getting letters of rec from them are good guidelines to follow with anyone you might ask for a recommendation in the future.

The first rule to follow is: give your advisor plenty of notice. Atun Anggara suggests you ask at least two weeks to one month before the application deadline, and asking earlier is even better. If you put it off too long, “don’t be surprised or offended if your advisor tells you she can’t write a letter for you because she doesn’t have enough time,” Cecilia Lucero warns.

Being able to give someone good lead time means that you have to lay the groundwork for making a request far in advance. Advisor Fr. Don LaSalle says you should make it a practice to “let professors and advisors get to know you, so that you won’t be asking them to write a recommendation for a stranger.”

Students should not only let advisors get to know them, but also they should get to know their advisors. Dr. Anggara appreciates it when students summarize for him why they think he would be a good person to write a recommendation. Explaining why you think someone would be a good recommender not only shows respect for them, but also shows the forethought you put into planning your application, as well as how important it is to you.

Make sure your advisor is very clear about what you need. “Asking in person is much better than in an email,” Laura Flynn explains, “Because it’s easier to explain what you would like in an actual conversation, and it is definitely more personal and respectful.”

After your request has been accepted, you should give your advisor written materials. “Some things about yourself, including personality traits, accomplishments, and future aspirations can be useful,” Dr. Lucero suggests, “and provide a resume plus any additional information you think is important. If there is anything you are hoping to have included in the letter, don’t be afraid to ask!”

Always include an explanation of what you are applying for in writing, as well as why you want to participate in the program, job, or internship. Dr. Maureen Dawson recommends providing the program description as well so that she can add specific details to the recommendation. Advisor Laura Flynn also encourages students to explain how this program will enhance their education and growth.

Finally, Fr. Don recommends that you explain the procedure for submitting the letter. Does a letter have to be written and sent as an email attachment, or is it an online form?

If you’re worried about your letter being sent on time, Dr. Dawson suggests you send a thank-you note before the deadline, usually one week or so in advance. “Advisors have many of students under their care, so it can be helpful to receive polite reminders.”

If you follow these suggestions from First Year advisors, you should have no problem with all of your applications, and your advisors will be happy and willing to help you out again. Remember, always make sure you thank your letter of recommendation writers for their time and support.