Determining Who You Should Ask to Write a Letter of Recommendation
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
When applying to universities or internships, applications often call for two to three letters of recommendation (LOR) from faculty. Unless students are in a specific program designed to help them apply to graduate programs, they are often unaware of what goes into determining who they should ask to write their LOR’s. In my very first year of teaching, I've had the honor of writing several letters for my students. Currently, I am facilitating a working group of recent graduates preparing applications for graduate programs. Based upon my interactions with these students and my experience writing LOR's, here are some TIIPS to help you select your letter writers:
1. Tenured Professors
While it is not required, it is advantageous to ask tenured professors for a LOR. They are vetted within a university. This means they tend to have more experience with academic institutions and LOR's. At times, they may know what certain graduate programs look for in prospective students. Therefore, you may information that helps you with your application.
2. Relationship and Past Interactions with Potential Letter Writers
Asking someone to write you a LOR is much easier for you when you know them, have interacted with them, and developed a relationship with them. All of this also makes writing a LOR much easier for your letter writer. Given this, if you can check off three or more of the following for each potential letter writer, they are a good person to request a LOR from:
You were a student in their class.
You performed well in their class.
You worked on a presentation, paper, or project with this professor.
You have interacted with the professor for a minimum of one semester or quarter.
They can speak to your strengths.
They can connect what they know about you to the program (s) you are applying to.
3. Working with Data
For programs or internships that involves working with data (either quantitative or qualitative), consider asking for a LOR from your research methods, statistics, or qualitative methods professors.
For programs or internships that involves service/volunteer work, consider asking for a LOR from a professor that you have either worked with on or service project or can attest to your skills, preparation, or dedication to service.