Letters of recommendations are a necessary transaction in order to move successfully to opportunities within and outside of Yale. They are best when they are written by Professors who know you well both inside and outside of class. Here are some general etiquette guidelines for requesting a letter of recommendation, and ways that you can support helping your professor to write the strongest letter possible.
And check out this Twitter thread from Dr. Arianna Long on thinking strategically about LOR, especially for first gen students: https://twitter.com/astroarianna/status/1582039372282486786
Making the ask
A good rule of thumb is to ask a professor via email at least one month in advance. A good way to ask for a letter is: “Do you think you could write a strong letter of recommendation for me to do X?” You should also have a clear idea of why you want that person to write for you.
At a minimum, you should have outstanding performance and participation in the Professor’s class. You should also have demonstrated professional behavior including exemplary attendance with no tardies. These behaviors seem basic, but they are foundational for a strong letter of recommendation, particularly for teaching positions!
You’re likely to get a stronger letter in a seminar than a lecture, where the professor will have read your work directly, and letters get even better when you have developed a relationship with the professor beyond class and the professor can speak to qualities like leadership, perseverance, team work, community building. This is critical to the difference between a blah letter saying you were a good student and a letter that will get you accepted to your heart’s desire. Have you had lunch together, have you opened up with them about the big questions you are thinking about, have you invited them to a performance you have done? One of the most memorable letters I’ve read recently described a conversation with a student on a Metro North train heading in to New York City on a class field trip. It was 2 hours, but the depth of engagement the professor described spoke volumes about the student in question.
It can also help if the course is related to the opportunity you are applying for. For graduate schools, it definitely helps to have a senior professor (associate or full professor) write you a letter – they have strong networks and name recognition that matter in graduate admissions.
Requesting a letter from Mira Debs
After making a request and getting my acceptance AT LEAST 3 WEEKS IN ADVANCE, there are a number of critical pieces of information I need from you in order to help me make the strongest case for you in the recommendation letter.
1) Email a copy of your Resume & application materials. Also include in your message:
- Why you want to do X that you are applying for?
- What courses did you take from me? What research did you do in your final papers? (A short summary is super-helpful.)
- Why does our experience working together help make the case for X? Remind me of moments of leadership, growth and struggle, work that you are especially proud of, other leadership in Education Studies – grants, advisory committee, student assistant, research assistant, etc…)
- What do I know about you that is unique? (Asking each recommender to highlight something different can help make your application stand out. Is there anything you don’t want to say about yourself that your recommender might highlight?)
- How are you thinking about education outside of class? (For eg. are you tutoring in schools, reading ed books for fun, obsessively watching education TED talks, observing in schools – these are things that I might not otherwise know to capture based on what I observed in class.
2) Please send me copious polite reminders until the due date until I let you know the letter is in. I usually have a stack of letters I’m writing, so I appreciate the reminders.
INTERFOLIO – If you need a lot of letters at once – for eg. for graduate school, set up an account via Interfolio. The basic service is free, the delivery service is $48 a year. If you’re a first year, sophomore or junior, it probably doesn’t make sense to pay this fee, so I am happy to send the letter directly to up to 4 internships. If you are a senior applying for jobs or graduate school and will need multiple recommenders and to send out a number of applications, it’s worth paying the $48 dossier service on Interfolio to send up to 50 letters of recommendation.
Communicating the outcomes and staying in touch
Once you have applied for the position/school/scholarship, please keep your recommenders updated! Professors write recommendation letters in their spare time. Thank you notes, banana bread (thank you Tom!) flowers, chocolate, etc. are always appreciated. They also care about what happens to you.
Also, keep in touch after graduation! You may find yourself wanting to use college recommenders years down the line when you apply to graduate school. It’s a good idea to check in yearly with a quick note to say how you are doing. This continues to build your relationship, and makes you seem less transactional when you write three years later to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Questions? Comments? Email email@example.com