Guidelines for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

The College of Idaho, Department of History

If you want a strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member in the Department of History, you should follow these recommendations.  Remember, the more quality information you provide, the stronger and more effective the letter can be:

  1. Request the letter of recommendation as early as possible.  Four to six weeks is optimal, two weeks is generally considered an absolute minimum.  Please realize that writing a good, detailed letter that will accurately represent your talents and get the attention of a reader or committee can take 1 to 2 hours to produce.
  2. When you request the letter, you should then review your Facebook page and other social media and online presence. Employers, supervisors, and members of graduate school selection committees routinely check these.  Your public photograph and personal information on these sites should not compromise your professional persona.

There are two different categories of letters:  general letters of recommendation for summer jobs, non-academic employment, undergraduate scholarships and the like;  academic letters of recommendation for graduate or professional schools or programs and academic or professional internships, etc. (summer programs, overseas programs, etc.)

For general letters, a copy of your transcript printed off from WebAdvisor, a typed information sheet with a description (including formal title) of the program/employer you are applying to and details on the goal you are pursuing, information about how the letter is to be delivered (as well as any other details you think relevant for the recommender to know to strengthen the letter), and a clear indication of due date should suffice.

For academic/professional letters, you should, to the degree possible, follow the suggestions below:

  1. If you are applying to an M.A. or Ph.D. program, do not submit the application without allowing a member of the history department to read and comment on your personal statement.  Your application will be significantly strengthened if you do so, and we are happy to help both students and alumni in this regard.  It is difficult to write a strong letter in support of a student with a weak application essay.   You should definitely start on this personal essay early and get it to a professor for comment at least one month before your due date.  These essays need multiple drafts and, not having written anything like this before, you likely have little idea of what to include: be concrete, write about specific papers, projects and presentations you have produced, what specific subject you intend to pursue in graduate school, and why the particular graduate program and the individual faculty members in it will allow you to achieve your scholarly goals.  Generalities and professing your love of history alone will not cut it.  Once you have created a draft that communicates these things, we can provide you with successful model essays from previous students that will help you refine your statement.  If you are serious about this start early!!!
  2. Provide a typed basic information sheet giving your full name, address, phone number(s) and email address.  You should also provide an unofficial transcript (a printout from WebAdvisor is sufficient). If you are asking for several letters with different due dates, provide an inventory sheet with instructions regarding where and when the letters should be sent to the relevant graduate schools, scholarship offices, or internships.  Be sure to send your recommender a reminder a week in advance of the due date if you want to be certain of the letter arriving to deadline.
  3. Provide your recommender details on the program or scholarship that you are applying for.  Ideally, provide an information sheet or web site for reference.  If you are applying for graduate school, be sure to indicate clearly the academic program or school within a university to which you are applying.  Be sure to include any appropriate forms (signed as necessary) associated with the program including those waiving (or not waiving) your right of access to the letter.  Please be aware that letters waiving your rights to access generally carry more weight than those that do not.
  4. Provide your recommender a copy of any personal statement or statement of interests you were required to write for the application.  Provide your recommender with a brief statement of your particular strengths, as you see them, and suggestions for the kinds of skills and activities that you would like to see mentioned and assessed in the letter.
  5. Provide your recommender with a detailed resume including your notable extracurricular activities, but also a list of all courses you have taken from that individual (with the term taken and the grades achieved for each) and other contacts you have had with the recommender in your college life (service organizations, clubs, committees, campus activities, etc.).  Don't assume your professor will remember all of her or his contacts with you (we're busy folks with lots of students!).
  6. Provide your recommender with a list of all the papers you have written in her or his classes, the grades you achieved on each, and any notable projects you have completed under her or his supervision.  Provide a copy of the best paper/writing (ideally including the recommender's original comments) or project you have produced for one of these classes.  If your recommender can write about specific activities and writing projects in her or his letter, this will strengthen the letter immensely.
  7. You may, if you wish, provide your recommender with addressed and stamped envelopes for your letters, particularly if you are requesting several letters to different programs.  If the recommendations need to be made electronically (this is an increasing practice by graduate schools) be certain to check the web sites to confirm that recommendations have gone through. As with all computer-related tasks, there are often electronic glitches and you want to be certain that the application is completed by deadline.
  8. Ideally, all of this information should come collected together in an information folder or envelope for the recommender’s convenience.


In short, you should do everything possible to provide the time, the information, and the convenience necessary for your recommender to write the strongest possible letter for you and get it to the necessary people on time.  This is your responsibility, not the recommender's, and you should treat the process with a level of seriousness corresponding to the desire you have to be successful in your field.


Recommendation Letter Checklist:


________  Clear description of program or funding source to which the student is applying.


________  Inventory sheet of letters required, due dates, and addresses (for requests for multiple letters).


________  Updated resume including relevant courses taken from and papers written for the recommender.


________  Unofficial transcript (WebAdvisor printout).


________  Writing sample of the best paper/project produced for the recommender.


________  Relevant forms and waivers, signed as necessary. A copy of any personal statement required by the application.


________  Stamped/addressed envelopes (particularly for multiple letter requests) OR electronic web links to online application sites.


________  Reminder note one week prior to application due date.


________  Confirm that letters / electronic applications have be received by the proper institutional representative.