Requesting Letters of Recommendation/Reference
Choose appropriate recommenders. Consider the attributes that the selection committee members will be looking for in a candidate, and then consider who can best highlight those attributes in you. Do you need all academic references? Should you include someone who can speak about your skills outside of the classroom? In a foreign environment? As team player? As a leader? Will a “character reference” add a dimension, or will it detract from your package?
Choose recommenders who truly know you as a student and a person. Take time each semester to get to know a professor or two, and have them get to know you, too. When it comes time for them to write a letter they can speak in terms of your development as a scholar, citizen, etc., and they will have a good sense of your goals and your preparation to reach them. Have they known you long—and well—enough to write a robust letter? Have they known you recently? (In other words, for most cases you do not want to go back to your high school guidance counselor, coach or scout leader.)
Be considerate. Do NOT wait until the last minute to request a letter. Nothing will put a recommender in a bad mood like a short fuse deadline, and you don’t want someone who’s ticked at you to write a letter on your behalf. Part of your timely preparation of a fellowship/graduate school/employment application should include careful—and early—selection of your recommenders. Also, take “No” for an answer. If a faculty member tells you that s/he cannot write a persuasive letter for you, trust her/him and move on to someone else.
Give your recommenders something to work with/from. Beyond their personal knowledge of you as a person/student/employee, provide your writers with information about the fellowship for which you’re applying, along with a draft of your personal statement, resume, study proposal, etc. If necessary, provide them with a pre-addressed stamped envelope for ease of mailing the letter.
Follow up. A note of thanks can go a long way, and keep your recommenders apprised of the outcome of your application(s).