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Asking for Letters of Recommendation

Managing the letters of recommendation is the applicant’s responsibility. It is up to YOU to do the following:

  1. Choose the most appropriate referees. Select people who know you well and can comment on relevant aspects of your background. Some programs will require academic references and other will require professional references. In general, you want to ask people who think highly of your work and can testify to your ability to carry out the task you set out for yourself. Consider how your recommendations will complement each other so that all the strengths of your application will come through. Try to avoid letters that will repeat the same information about you. If possible, you want recommendations from people who can describe different aspects of your background and your abilities.

  2. Explain the process of submitting recommendations to your referees. Most programs, but not all, now require electronic submission of recommendation letters. Most referees, but not all, have the technological know-how to navigate the electronic submission systems in place. Make sure that the individuals writing on your behalf understand what they need to do.

  3. Give your referees sufficient information. Talk to them about your background and your project proposal. Show them your resume and drafts of your essays. Discuss the fellowship program you are pursuing, and make sure your referees understand what the program is looking for. Make it easy for your referees to endorse you and the project you are proposing. Share with them our Tips for Writing Winning Letters of Recommendation.

  4. Be courteous. Your referees are taking time out of their (busy) schedules to help you with your application. Give them the information they need to be proper advocates for you, and do so in a timely manner. Be respectful of their time. And remember that a nicely worded thank you note will always be appreciated.

  5. Follow up with your referees. After you register them, contact your referees to make sure they have access to the online recommendation system.

  6. Verify that your recommendations are submitted. Most electronic applications will allow you see whether a letter has been submitted. (They will generally not give you access to the letter itself.) If the program relies on hard copy letters sent through the mail, you can contact your referee to ensure that they sent the letter to the proper address.

  7. Stay in close contact with referees. Don’t assume that your referees remember the application deadline or that they have everything they need. You don’t want to pester anyone unnecessarily, but you do want to remain in touch until the recommendation has been submitted.