There is probably only one group of people that hates dealing with letters of recommendation even more than applicants do – and that is the professors who are asked to write them.
As an applicant, you only have to worry about rounding up one set of letters, for yourself. But a professor is probably dealing with dozens, even scores, of letter requests at any one time. And whereas you stand to gain a huge benefit from a well-crafted letter of recommendation – admission to a targeted graduate program – your recommender’s only reward is likely to be additional LOR requests.
Here are some steps you can take to make the process easier on your recommender (and, not incidentally, to increase your chances of receiving strong LORs that are submitted on time):
- Give your recommender plenty of lead time to write your letter. Try not to ask for a LOR any later than 6 weeks prior to your application deadline. (This means, of course, that you must have your applications near final no more than 6 weeks prior to the deadline as the letters of reference should be used to tie all of your story themes together.)
- Tell your recommender, in writing, what schools and programs you’re applying to, and why. If you want their letter to address some specific point about your academic performance, mention it to them in writing – they may not be able to keep track of a verbal request.
- Remind your recommender what classes you took with them and when. Give them a copy of a paper or other work you prepared for that class to remind them of your performance. (Keep in mind, you have just one professor to remember from the class, whereas your professor has to remember anywhere from a dozen to several hundred students. Even if your recommender says he or she remembers you, it doesn’t hurt to help them recall some specifics about your background, interests, and class participation.)
- Ask your recommender if they want a copy of your resume or transcripts as well. If so, provide them.
- Try to ask for letters to all the programs you are applying to at the same time. Give your recommender a written list with the contact information and deadline for each program, in an easy-to-scan ‘checklist’ format.
- Fill out as much of the LOR cover sheets as you can before giving them to your recommender (i.e., don’t expect your recommender to type in your name and other identifying information). If your recommenders are being asked to mail letters directly to the schools, provide them with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. Make sure you list the recommenders, not you, as the return addressees.
And, of course, follow all this up with a warm thank-you note – including news about your application outcomes.