- Get to know your professors. Think early on in your Loyola career about which 2-3 professors with whom you want to cultivate a relationship who will serve as excellent letter writers. Outside of the class context, as time permits, ask them about opportunities to get involved in other activities such as research or other writing projects, being a TA (for graduate students), etc. The more contexts and activities in which a professor observes you, hopefully the better a professor knows you and in turn can write informatively about you for a letter.
- Think carefully about whom to ask to write the letter: Consider in which classes you have demonstrated your strengths as a student, which faculty members know you well, and which courses align with whatever criteria there are for your intended scholarship, job, graduate program, externship, etc. Thus, you should not choose recommenders based on who you like the most, but rather who will write the best letter for you. At a minimum, these persons should have taught you in at least one class, and you ideally should have performed well in that class. Then, participate often and substantively in class, go to their office hours, chat with them before and after class, etc. After that class concludes, stay in touch with the professor in person (through office hours) or via email updating them on what you are doing (e.g., projects, externships, summer jobs, research projects).
- Plan, plan, plan. Know when the letter submission deadlines are for the job, scholarship, study abroad program, graduate program, and/or externship. Given each deadline, ask and then provide professors with all the materials they will need to write your letter at least a month in advance, and then send a reminder email 7-10 days before each deadline. They have many wonderful students like you who are also asking for them to write letters, and faculty in turn need to carve out the time to write these letters on top of their regular workload.
- Make an appointment to meet with a faculty member. Once you have identified the faculty members for an intended letter of recommendation, make an appointment to meet with each of them to discuss your plans for this intended scholarship, job, or graduate program. Ask them whether they feel that they can write a strong letter about you. If possible, at this meeting, also provide all necessary materials for them. If not, deliver at least the following materials, preferably at that meeting. While many faculty will agree to write you a letter, some may decline. The reasons for this are multiple: (a) they may not have the time (particularly if not given a substantial amount of notice), (b) they may feel that they do not know you well enough, or (c) they may feel that they cannot write a strong letter on your behalf.
- Provide packet of application materials in a folder or envelope, which should include:
- A cover sheet that lists in table format the following information:
- the program or job for which you are applying. For grad school applications, be sure to specify the degree programs to which you are applying, e.g., Masters in Cognitive Psychology. For summer programs, specify the details about the programs for which you are applying. For jobs, provide a description of that job.
- DEADLINES for your letters; specify if the deadline is a postmarked by or received by date.
- How to submit the letter (indicate whether faculty should wait for a link from a school; if they should give the letters to you in a signed and sealed envelope, or if they should submit the letters via post, in which case, provide stamped and addressed envelopes).
- The complete address of each program even if it will be an online submission; faculty need this info for the header of your letter
- For hard copy letters of recommendations, provide stamped and addressed envelopes. Be sure to fill out any front portion of this form that waives your right to review this letter of recommendation, includes your home address, etc. Fill out any other section that requires the name of the professor, his or her title, and address.
- Reminders of what class(es) you took with the professor, when, and the grade(s) you received. Relatedly, explain what you took away from that particular course, particularly as it informs your application for the particular program, job, internship, etc.
- Your CV or resume (including relevant awards, honors, activities, GPA, GRE scores).
- A copy of your transcript (copying from WebAdvisor into a Word document is fine).
- Your personal statement (if it is relevant), or in lieu of that a brief description (a paragraph is fine) of what you are applying for and why; including how what your applying for builds on your current education and fits with your career goals.
- A statement of anything in particular that you would like highlighted in your letter(s) of recommendation.
- For graduate school programs: If you are interested in a school for a specific reason, please state what that reason is.
- For Ph. D. programs: You should identify the specific researchers with whom you are hoping to work and why you feel you are a good match. Drafts of essays for these schools could further assist your letter writer.
- Depending upon the professor, the professor may:
- request a list of classes taken from the professor (include semester and year) and copies of papers written in these classes.
- require that you have a mock interview with him or her.
- Your goal is to remove any mystery from the process and leave your professor in a happy mood while writing a letter about you
- Say Thank You. After all letters have been sent, it's common courtesy to write a handwritten note thanking the letter writers for their efforts. Be sure to keep them posted as to the outcomes of all these letters.
Note on “Waiving Your Right to View the Letter”
Many institutions ask if you are willing to “waive” your right to view your letters of recommendation. By waiving your right to view the letter you are basically stating that you are ‘OK’ with not viewing the letter your recommender has written and thus, the recommender has full range to express him or herself without the expectation that you will see the letter. If you do not waive your right to see the letter then you are basically telling the institution that you are ‘not OK’ with not viewing the letter your recommender has written. This will allow you to view the letter only if you actually enroll in the program that accepted you.
As a rule of thumb, you want to waive your right to view your letter because it will show the institution that your recommender was allowed to be candid about you in the letter. This also circles back to a point above: ask professors who can speak highly of your skills to write you a letter of recommendation.
What If I Haven't Been in School for Years?
Some students know that they will be heading on for additional schooling, but are choosing to not do so immediately. In that case, you might consider asking key faculty members to write a letter of recommendation for an intended graduate school work in a particular area after you leave, so that they will have a draft that is written when they still knew you well upon which to build at a later time when you actually apply for that intended program. Moreover, it is advisable to cultivate and maintain those relationships with these faculty members over time that in turn will support your professional pursuits. Relatedly, follow the work done in your intended field and where applicable, research interests. Take time to ask these faculty members who likely do work in these areas about their own work.
If you did not ask faculty members prior to your departure from your program, your professors may still be quite capable of writing you a strong letter, particularly if you produced high quality work. Nonetheless, samples of your work from the courses that you took from them (as noted previously) may be particularly useful to jog their memory.