During the course of your academic career, and especially as you prepare to graduate and pursue a graduate degree, credential, or enter the workforce, you may wish to ask HD faculty to write letters of recommendation for you. Before you request letters from a faculty member, please review the information below and follow the guidelines specified later. This information, and accompanying guidelines, are intended to ensure that good letters of recommendation are submitted in a timely fashion. At the bottom of this page are some additional links that students seeking letters of recommendation may find useful.*
First, important things to be aware of…
A good letter is important as a potential gateway to graduate schools, fellowships, and jobs. However, good letters are built on: (1) the foundation that students create for themselves (e.g., strong work ethic, talent, and motivation); and (2) the relationship that students have with the letter writer. It is critical to cultivate relationships with individuals who can advocate for you or know you well enough to convey a strong sense of who you are. If you have not done so, you need to do the work to foster those relationships. Building such relationships takes time—start early in your college career (e.g., by meeting with faculty during their office hours to discuss class material or topics that interest you or by volunteering to do research with a professor).
Second, which faculty member(s) should you be asking for a letter?
The most effective letters offer details about YOU and who you are as a student, researcher, etc. Therefore, you want a letter from a professor who knows you well. In short, good letters are valuable, but letters that are less strong, weak, or negative will only hinder your application. Therefore, it is important that you reflect on your experiences and performance in our classes and your interactions with faculty before you ask for letters of recommendation. When you ask a professor for a letter, it is acceptable (and in fact, likely preferred) that you ask, “Would it be possible for you to write me a strong letter of recommendation?”.
Third, when should you approach a faculty member about writing a letter of recommendation?
You need to plan to provide all materials and information to your letter writer(s) 5-6 weeks before the earliest application deadline. This means you need to approach potential letter writers at least two months before your earliest application deadline. That way, if a person you ask to write a letter declines, you have time to approach other potential letter writers. Like you, faculty value their time off. Therefore, you should account for breaks, such as Thanksgiving and winter intersession, when calculating the appropriate time to approach faculty about writing a letter. If a letter is due January 31, you need to provide the following information (see below) to your letter writer(s) by early December, at the latest, in order to account for the winter intersession break. This means you will need to approach faculty by the middle of the fall semester, at the latest, to see who will be willing to write a letter on your behalf, so plan ahead. Never list a person as someone who can provide a recommendation if you have not asked the person first!
Fourth, what materials and pertinent information do you need to provide to faculty who have agreed to write you a letter of recommendation? What else do you need to do?
Please provide all the following materials and information and keep in mind that individual faculty may request additional materials:
- A description of what you did in our classes or research lab that we might talk about in a letter for you. That is, if there are particular assignments, projects, or activities that you would like us to emphasize, let us know. A brief summary should suffice.
- A brief account of why the program, fellowship, or job interests you, and why you are a strong candidate for it.
- Resume or curriculum vita
- Statement of purpose or essay that you are submitting to the program/school or the job description
- Clear instructions for each submitting letter, including:
- A list of deadlines for letters of recommendation (this may be the same as or different from the application deadline).
- The name of the specific program, fellowship, or job, and address, including the name of the individual to whom the letter should be addressed.
- The type of submission (by email, online, snail mail).
- For graduate programs, include a list of the professors who you are interested in working with along with a description of the program.
In short, you need to provide your letter writer(s) with all relevant forms, accompanying instructions, and stamped envelopes addressed to the program/fellowship/job for letters submitted via snail mail or email addresses for email submissions. Students often find it helpful to stay organized using an Excel worksheet. Each row can be one program you are applying to, and then there can be columns with instructions, how to submit, who to submit to, deadline, etc., etc. You can then just send that worksheet to each professor in advance of the first deadline.
For all recommendation forms (online and paper versions), the name, affiliation, and contact information of your letter writer needs to be completed by you before you pass on the forms to the letter writer.
Our contact information is listed on the Human Development webpage (go to our Faculty page). Please note the home department listed under each faculty member’s name. You may use the following template:
Name: [insert name of faculty], Ph.D.
Title: [insert Assistant/Associate/Full] Professor
Address: Department of [insert department listed under the faculty member’s name]
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Phone: [insert phone]
Email: [insert email address]
Professors will most likely submit your letters on time (though, perhaps "just" on time). Still, it is acceptable (and sometimes preferred) to send a polite reminder no more than a week before the due date if you know the letter has not yet been submitted.
SSU Career Services website provides information useful to students applying to graduate school or entering the job market, including:
- How to ask for a letter of recommendation
- How to write a resume or curriculum vitae
- How to write a cover letter
Additional websites offering information specifically about requesting letters of recommendation:
- Requesting Letters of Recommendaton for Graduate School
- Dos and Don'ts for Requesting a Grad School Recommendation Letter
- How to Ask for a Reference Letter
* This information was adapted from the West Chester University's Psychology Department webpage.