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You thought this was going to be one of those mean-spirited videos bashing students who ask for letters of reference, didn't you?

This following verbatim advice came from the BioAnthropology News Facebook group (which I highly recommend you join!).  I can't find it on there anymore, so I'm really glad I saved this.  I email it to students every year but thought it might be easier for everyone to find if I republished it here.

By the way, if this is you, don't ask for a letter of recommendation at all:


When asking for a letter of recommendation, give your professors at least two weeks notice. Go ahead and ask if they feel like they can write you a good letter, otherwise it wastes time for both of you.

Corollary A: Give the professor ALL necessary information. They should NOT have to look up your information; remember, a) they are not required to write you a letter so this is above and beyond their usual work load, and b) they usually have many of these letters to write and will not have the time to track down information you should have provided. The following information should be provided to each letter writer, in an organized fashion:

1.  Your CV or resumé
2.  The complete address for the person they are writing the letter to (even if it is being sent as part of a packet, they need it for the top of the letter and their own records)
3.  Deadline
4.  Your statement of purpose (almost all applications require one)
5.  Any required forms or the full website for posting the letter.
6.  Answer the following questions in bullet form - the more specific, the better:

  • How long have you known the person writing the letter
  • In what context(s)
  • Grades you’ve received in their classes
  • Notable assignments completed for them and the grades you received
  • Relevant work experience both within and outside the department
  • Internships/off-campus learning
  • What special academic and non-academic qualities you will bring to the new post or school you are applying to? This requires that you know some specifics about the program and can define your fit with those features.
  • Are there any problematic features in your record (grades, time away from school, etc.) that need explanation, and how would you suggest handling this issue?

7.  Ask the professor if they would prefer hard copies of these materials, or would like them emailed.