Asking for Letters of Recommendation

Asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation can feel somewhat daunting. You are putting yourself out there, just hoping they like you enough to say yes. The good news is, most of Mid’s faculty and staff are well accustomed to writing letters of recommendation for students and are glad to support you in your academic goals.

Potential employers, scholarship and grant selection committees, and graduate school admissions offices depend heavily on recommendation letters to gain insight into applicants' strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. This information cannot be readily gleaned from transcripts and test scores. So it is in your best interest to help your recommenders write the most accurate and detailed letters possible.

To ensure your request goes as smoothly as possible, you should be thoughtful about who and how you ask. Begin by cultivating close working relationships with Mid faculty and staff. Once you're acquainted with them, consider visiting their offices periodically to discuss your interests and keep in touch. When the time comes, you won’t need to feel shy about requesting a recommendation.

Refer to the following guidelines for managing your letter requests.

  1. Choose the people who know you best. Because reference letters have the important function of revealing aspects of your personality and giving insight into your character, you should choose someone who knows you well and can give specific anecdotes about you. While other parts of your application display your grades, activities, and other accomplishments, letters of recommendation can go beyond the resume and help you come to life in the eyes of admissions officers.
  2. Ask early. Ask well in advance of your deadlines. Allow recommenders as much time as possible, and at least two-three weeks, to prepare and submit their recommendations. We highly recommend involving them in the early stages of your application process, while you are deciding how to present yourself in the application materials. Their insights will prove invaluable and they will be well informed of your interests when they write their recommendations. Make appointments to meet with Mid faculty and staff several times during the semester during their office hours. Some will even require that you notify them of a request within the first 2 - 3 weeks of a semester so that they can be 'keeping an eye' out for your performance.
  3. Provide materials. Once a recommender has agreed to write your letters, provide them with copies of your application materials. Your application and letters of recommendation should tell a story about who you are as a student and person.
  4. The following items will help them write accurate and purposeful letters.
    • Photocopies of key pages from the application brochure, describing the nature and purpose of the scholarship, internship, graduate program or other opportunity.
    • A copy (or a draft) of your application essays, or a summary of your career and educational goals.
    • A list of your activities (sports, organizations, leadership and volunteer positions).
    • A description of pertinent work or research experiences.
    • A copy of your transcript.
    • If time has passed since you worked with a recommender, also provide a copy of your paper or project.
  5. Write out all submission instructions and deadlines. There should be no question as to when and where to submit the finished letters. Provide properly addressed, typed, stamped envelopes.
  6. Keep in touch with your recommenders. After submitting your application, send recommenders a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for their guidance and support. Update them on your progress throughout the stages of the competition and inform them whether you are selected for the award or not. Should you need a recommendation in the future, this kind of follow-up communication will continue to foster a close, positive relationship with your Mid faculty and staff sponsors.

Recommendation letters can speak to your academic potential, character traits, personality, and about how you've connected with others during your time at Mid. The more detailed and personalized your letter is, the more likely it is to make a strong impression on a selection committee. So ask Mid Faculty and staff with the most extensive, personal knowledge of you and your work.

Begin your request with a substantial conversation about your interests and goals and then ask them if they can write a strong letter of recommendation. Most likely they will say yes. However, in some cases, the recommender may say no, or that he or she can only write a recommendation citing certain qualifiers or weaknesses. In this case, you should accept their judgment graciously and consider asking for more feedback about your goals and academic plan for study.

Thank your recommender! Always thank a recommender for taking the time to write a letter for you. Thank them when you ask them, thank them during the process, and thank them for the letter of recommendation once it is complete.