Letters of recommendation are an important part of graduate school applications and job applications.
First, identify who you would like to ask to write letters of recommendation for you. Faculty members are a great choice, especially for graduate school applications. Consider those faculty members who you have interacted with multiple times, whether through research, advising, or being a student in their classes. It can also be helpful if the faculty member knows about the field/profession you are entering and has a positive impression of you from working with them or doing well in their classes. Other professional references can write letters of recommendation for you as well. Supervisors from related job experiences or internships can also be a great choice.
Ask your professional references if they would feel comfortable writing a strong positive letter of recommendation for you. If they don’t feel comfortable writing such a letter, it is much better to know that and ask someone else rather than have a possibly negative or generic letter as part of your application. Be aware that some references don’t let students read the letter before they mail it, so it is important to ask beforehand that the faculty member will be writing a positive letter.
When you do ask for your letter of recommendation, do so in a courteous way. Remember that they are doing you a favor by taking the time to recommend you!
If they are willing to write you a letter of recommendation, provide them with a clear list of the places you are applying to along with the due dates and pre-addressed envelopes with postage if necessary. It is appropriate to give your reference an adequate amount of time before the due date, typically a month or longer if possible. Furthermore, give them a copy of your résumé, personal statement, classes you’ve taken or date of employment, along with some of your important work. This can facilitate writing a letter of recommendation and also assure that the letter will be more personal. Be sure to keep your references updated throughout your search.
Finally, thank all of your references! Letters of recommendation take time to write and can often be the difference between getting into a graduate program or being selected for a job.