Letter of Recommendation and Reference Guide

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a letter to a potential employer, organization, or program that emphasizes your strengths and casts your professional attitude or work ethic in a positive light.

What is a professional reference?

A reference is a statement given by a professor, supervisor, or colleague to a potential employer, organization, or program. When giving a reference, the referee will share insight about your former employment, internship, research, or other experiences.

Who should you ask?

When deciding who to ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference, consider the following questions:

  • is the person’s academic or professional area relevant to your work or area of study?
  • does the person know you well enough to say substantive things about you?

Examples of typical recommenders and referees for college students can include:

  • current or previous work supervisors
  • professors, administrators, or advisors
  • leaders in organizations where you volunteer

If you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, consider filling out this request form to make the process easier for the writer and identify why you chose them.

When asking…

Before asking for a recommendation or reference, take the time to prepare:

  • a reminder of how you know the person and when you met
  • a description of the job or program you are applying for
  • a copy of your resume
  • accomplishments, projects, or papers you have completed for the person
  • a list of particular skills, traits, or experiences you would like the recommender or referee to highlight

Watch this video for ideas and guidance on what to say when asking for a recommendation or reference.

Allow at least two weeks’ notice to serve as a reference and two months to write a letter of recommendation.

  • read through this page for a more detailed timeline for requesting a letter of recommendation

Be sure to send a thank you note to the recommender or referee afterwards and let them know the outcome of your application.