Helpful Reminders When Requesting Letters of Recommendations for Graduate or Professional School
Choose whom you ask to write your letters of recommendation carefully. They should be individuals you are sure will write a strong letter of support. Ask them, if you are not sure. It is also advisable to have letters come from a variety of sources such as a professor in a course you assisted, a professor in departments allied to but outside your major (e.g., chemistry, physics, psychology, math), a professor who was an advisor to a student organization you belonged to, and an on-site internship supervisor who does not work for Elon University. The combination of these letters from different sources from within and outside Elon University should provide an evaluation of your ability to deal with intellectually challenging ideas, conduct laboratory or field research, collaborate with others, and succeed in graduate study.
Your professors are busy people–request letters of recommendation as soon as possible. A minimum of 3 weeks should pass between when a professor receives your request to write a letter and the graduate school’s deadline for the receipt of that letter. Also, make sure you include the deadline dates in the information you send to recommenders.
Many graduate and professional schools now provide on-line submissions of letters of recommendation. Make sure you have contacted you recommenders and provided the information described in the next bullet before they receive an email from an automated system requesting the letter of recommendation.
In addition to the graduate or professional school instructions to the reference writers and the evaluation forms, you should send a brief statement outlining your activities since graduating from Elon University (any additional courses taken, relevant job experience, volunteer experiences, etc.), an unofficial copy of your transcript, your resume or Curriculum Vitae, and a brief justification explaining why you have chosen to pursue a particular graduate or professional program.
Remind the professor about the courses or activities (e.g., Beta Beta Beta plant sale, biology department field trip, Lincoln Pre-Med Society meetings, Sierra Club Haw River Clean-up) that you both were involved in. A reminder about the independent research projects you conducted in Sophomore Seminar, Botany, Zoology, Senior Seminar, and other upper level courses will help the professor remember specific details about your performance that can improve the letter of recommendation.
Read the specific areas on the medical, graduate, or professional school evaluation form to see what criteria your recommender will be commenting on. Many ask the person writing the letter of recommendation to comment upon your motivation, intellectual capacity, maturity, dependability, emotional maturity, leadership abilities, character, integrity, verbal and written communication skills, and your ability to deal with criticism. You may want to point out evidence of these qualities to your recommender.
If the graduate program wants your application as one complete packet, make sure to inform your recommender so that they can place your letter of recommendation in an Elon University envelope and sign the outside flap to ensure confidentiality. You should include a larger self-addressed stamped envelope so that the letter of recommendation can be mailed back to your home address. If the letters should be sent directly to the graduate program, make sure you provide your professor with a complete address including the name of the person or program that the letter should address.
Follow up by sending a written thank you note to the recommender and keep in touch to let them know the outcome of your application.