Letters of Recommendation

The Dos and Don't of Requesting Recommendation Letters from Western English Department Faculty:

Ask your faculty way ahead of time, preferably September if you're applying in the winter—but at least a month before the deadline. Your faculty member should NOT find out they have been asked because they received an automatically generated on-line form from the school of your choice.

What if I ask and they say no?

If you ask a faculty member for a recommendation and that person feels he or she cannot provide one, do not try to press or insist. Faculty members typically only recommend students they can recommend whole-heartedly, and whom they know well enough to write a detailed recommendation in the genre in which you are applying. There are many reasons why writing a good recommendation letter may not be possible, and in this area, the faculty member’s yes or no response should prevail.

What information should I provide?

Create a list of all the courses you took from the recommending faculty and in what year. If possible, photocopy or scan comments they made on your papers and include the papers in order to help them speak specifically about your work. Share this information with your professor after he or she has agreed to write a recommendation for you.

Create a list of all the schools you would like to apply to in the order of their deadlines (earliest first). Please indicate degree applied for in each case (MA/MFA/PhD). Give this list to your professors too. If the form asks whether the recommendation is confidential or non-confidential, check confidential. Waiving your right to read the recommendation until after the process is over gives the recommendation more weight.

Include a resume and your best draft of your Application Statement. (This statement can have a variety of names; "Personal Statement" is another common name.) Remember as you are writing that these statements are not intended as full biographies. They are short writing samples in which you are demonstrating your qualifications for acceptance. If you are applying for more than one type of degree, you will most likely need to write several versions of your Personal Statement. If you are interested in applying for a Teaching Assistantship, be sure your faculty recommender is aware of this, and check to see if your application has an earlier due date.

Your faculty recommender may be writing between 50 and 100 letters, so you need to consolidate your information well before you ask. Please be aware that some faculty limit the number of schools to which they are willing to send recommendations. In other words, some may be willing to write to a dozen schools, others six.