On Getting a Good Recommendation

Some members of the Political Science Department will write letters for students whom they have not gotten to know, provided they come in, introduce themselves, and spend some time discussing their plans. Other members of the Department feel comfortable writing only for students they know personally, and do not wish to write letters for students whom they did not get to know in large lecture courses. Some professors prefer not to write letters unless students have received high grades whereas others are willing to write letters for students who have not done distinguished work. Please consult with individual instructors about their policies.

Your recommendation is important to you, so you should spend some time making sure that you have prepared materials that will enable you to get the best endorsement possible. It will be helpful to have the following materials with you when you come to see a faculty member to discuss a recommendation:

  1. Your (unofficial) transcript, with grades in the faculty member's courses highlighted.
  2. Your current resumé. This should include your academic activities, work experience at school and during summers, extra-curricular activities and internships. It should also include your academic and non-academic awards and recognition. Make sure it has your contact information (address, telephone number, E-mail).
  3. A personal statement. You should discuss your educational and career plans and how you decided on them. This statement should not be a recapitulation of your resumé. It should be personal in every sense of the word; it should give some insight into your values, your aspirations, your hopes and even your fears. You should avoid abstractions and write about yourself and your experiences. This statement can be a copy of whatever personal application essay is being asked for by the school(s) in question.
  4. All forms needed to complete the recommendation. For pre-law or pre-medical students, this generally involves a single form from the pre-professional adviser. For students applying to graduate or fellowship programs there are usually separate forms for each institution. For internships and employment recommendations, supply the name and address of the organization. Indicate if the faculty member should use a form or if the recommendation is to be a letter written on departmental letterhead.
  5. A list of all schools or organizations to which the recommendation is to be sent. It is sometimes the case that a faculty member will write different letters to different schools. Some may reserve the right to refuse to write letters for one or more of the schools on your list, and they will inform you if that is the case.
  6. Addressed envelopes. Postage is not necessary.
  7. A cover letter with any special instructions and deadlines for these forms to be completed. Include your address, telephone number, and E-mail address.
  8. Plan in advance and allow at least two weeks for a faculty member to write a recommendation. Most will not be able to write recommendations during final-exam week of the semester and the vacation week that follows. Some will be available during the summer vacation, but others may not, so you should find out from each faculty member when he or she will be able to write for you.
  9. Do follow up with each school or employer to determine if the recommendation has reached its destination.
  10. Please tell the professors who have written for you to which schools, jobs or internships you were accepted and (if you can bear it) from which of these you were rejected. The information will help them to guide students who follow in your footsteps.

We wish you much success!!