University of Vermont

Leadership & Club Resources

Letters of Recommendation

Of great importance throughout life are letters of recommendation. Graduate and professional schools require them, as do most employers and many organizations. Even as an entering student, you should remind yourself that every teacher, supervisor, and advisor is a potential writer of recommendations and that the impressions he/she forms of you as a student in class or as a student leader/employee may influence the character of the letter that may be written when you graduate and afterwards. Be certain that each of these potential writers of recommendation letters know who you are.

There is an etiquette of soliciting letters of recommendation, and any breach of it may result in a negative response. Here are some suggestions to follow:

  1. The person who writes on your behalf should be well acquainted with your work and able to speak authoritatively about it. Mere friendship isn't enough. The strength of a recommendation is proportionate to how well the writer actually knows you and can speak to your skills. Many application forms ask you to decide if the letter will be kept confidential or if you will read it. Your decision on this issue may be important.

  2. Always request permission to submit someone's name as a recommender. Believe it or not, some people will decline the privilege of singing your praises, especially if you didn't have permission in advance. It is disconcerting to a potential recommender to receive a phone call asking for a recommendation without being asked beforehand.

  3. Remember that nearly everyone is busy, particularly those who are best qualified to support your application. Start the process in plenty of time so your advocate doesn't feel rushed. Be judicious in the number of letters you request. Even with the aid of computers, it's a time-consuming activity, especially if you want a positive letter.

  4. To write a persuasive recommendation, a person needs to have all the facts. Write down precisely what you want to be recommended for [the degree, the type of financial aid, and the specific issues that ought to be addressed, etc.] Many graduate schools or student leader positions provide a form designed to provide that information. It can also be helpful to provide the letter writer with your resume.

  5. Provide an addressed and stamped envelope for every letter to be sent. [Some schools want letters of recommendation to be sent directly to them; your recommender needs the proper address and the name of the person and/or group to which you seek recommendation.] On the other hand, you may be asked to collect all the letters and then send them in a single package.

  6. If someone thinks so highly of you that he/she writes on your behalf, you may be certain that he/she is interested in the outcome. It is respectful to send a hand-written thank you note immediately after the person agrees to write a letter of recommendation. It is also courteous to inform your recommender of the ultimate decision [i.e., did you get the position for which the writer wrote the letter of recommendation?]. After all, you may need to ask for another letter in the future.

Source: UVM Department of Theatre