Bryn Mawr students might sometimes feel guilty about asking faculty members for letters of recommendation, especially for multiple letters for different programs. There is no reason to feel guilty. Every faculty member knows that it is part of the job of a faculty member to write letters of support for students. In general, Bryn Mawr faculty members fulfill this responsibility admirably well.
You should do your utmost to make this job easy and pleasant for your faculty members.
- Think carefully about which faculty members to ask for letters. Generally, you want faculty who think highly of your work, know you well, and are in a field of study related to your application.
- Remember that a faculty member always has the right to say “no.” Many faculty members don’t like to say no outright, but if they say “I’m not sure I know you well enough,” that’s often code for not feeling able to write a strong letter of support.
- Give professors plenty of time to write the letters. “Plenty of time” means 4-6 weeks.
- If a professor is on leave, you may still ask for a letter of recommendation. However, you should probably do so only if the professor’s recommendation is directly relevant to your application. This may be because of their area of specialization or because of how well they know you. In the case of a faculty member on leave, it’s a good idea to give even more advance notice.
- It’s usually courteous to ask for letters in person. It’s also courteous, as much as possible, to let a professor know if you will be making multiple applications, and if so, for what.
- Make sure professors have all the forms they need to complete the letters. Sign any waivers of confidentiality. Make sure these forms clearly include the deadline and the place to send the letter. If they don’t, attach this information. If the professor will be mailing the letter, provide a stamped envelope.
- If the application requires professors submit their applications online, make sure that they understand as well as possible how this will work.
- Make sure professors have access to information about the fellowship or other program you are applying to. You may direct them to the Bryn Mawr fellowships page or other online source, but it can be good to give them a brief description in writing: for example, “the Udall is a scholarship for undergraduate studies for those planning a career in fields related to the environment.” Such an explanation shouldn’t be necessary for the Rhodes, Marshall, or Fulbright, but it never hurts.
- Make sure professors have what they need to know about you. At the very least, you should include a draft of your personal statement and proposal. If you’re applying as an alumna, you may want to include a list of courses taken with the professor.
- Professors will sometimes want to review copies of papers you have submitted to them. Be ready to comply with these requests.
- It’s usually a good idea to send a friendly reminder to the professor, probably one week before the letter is due.
- Thank your recommenders. Thank them when they agree; thank them again when you remind them; and most of all, thank them when they've sent in the letters. Although this final thank you could be by email, you'll make more of an impression with a handwritten note, on stationery or a note card. If you choose to, you may include a small gift, but it's not necessary at all, and indeed, a large gift is inappropriate