How to request a recommendation letter

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Many students ask me to write a recommendation letter on their behalf for study-away programs, employment opportunities, and graduate schools. (If the latter topic interests you, see also my advice on: How to apply to graduate school.) I’m very willing to do this in most cases, as it’s an important aspect of my role as an advisor, and one of the benefits of a small liberal arts college. Here’s the best way to request a letter from me (but note that other faculty may have their own routines).

First, ask for my permission (in person or via email) to list me as a recommender.

Second, send me at least 1-2 paragraphs that answers this question: Why are you and this program a good match for one another? Free free to send this to me in a comment-enabled Google Doc ( or via email attachment. If you have already addressed this in a longer application essay, feel free to send me that version. Reading your words helps me to decide if you are, in fact, a good match, and if so, how to customize my letter for your intended program.

Third, after we agree that I will write a letter on your behalf, send me instructions on the deadline and where to send your recommendation. Some programs request that I email it directly to them, while other programs require you to fill out an online form that automatically sends instructions to me about how to upload your letter. If you are applying to multiple programs, it’s a good idea to send me a summary email that lists all of them in order, to help both of us keep track of deadlines.