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How to Request a Reference Letter

History, Political Science, and Philosophy

How to Request a Reference Letter?

As you move toward graduation, you may need reference letters from faculty members for job, grad school, or law school applications. Some students may need a reference letter earlier, in order to apply for a fellowship or the Honors program. These guidelines are to help you approach faculty with reference letter requests and ensure that they can write the best possible letter on your behalf.

Faculty are often happy to write reference letters or serve as a phone reference for students provided:

  • the faculty member knows you well (Have you taken more than one class with the faculty member? Or have you taken at least one upper-level class with them?)
  • they can write a strong letter for you. (This doesn't mean you have to be a straight “A” student. If you're not sure if a particular faculty member would be a good reference, you can ask them. If they feel that they cannot write a strong letter for you, they may be able to recommend someone else.)

To request a faculty member serve as a reference that doesn’t require a letter:

  • ask them before you list them as a reference!
  • let them know if an application asks for their email address and/or a phone number; some faculty members may check one more regularly than the other.

To request a reference letter:

  • ask AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Faculty members may receive a large number of reference letter requests due at the same time, and we need time to do a good job. Please give us at least one month's notice. If it's a last-minute opportunity, make that clear in your email.
  • ask the faculty member if they are able to write for you. You request should include:
    • a description of the opportunity/program
    • the due date for the reference letter.
  • If you are applying to graduate school, include the program (i.e. MA in public history); if applying for a scholarship, include the link; and if you are applying for a job, tell us what the job is (i.e. teaching high school social studies, working as an archival assistant, etc.).
  • tell them you have a resume/CV to send them. Offer to send the best paper you wrote for their class or to type up and send the comments they wrote on your papers. Offer to send a link that provides more information about the opportunity/program, and offer to send your application materials (such as a personal statement, cover letter, or diversity statement) as soon as they are ready.