Rec Letters


What are recommendation letters for?

Employers and application review committees use the letters as part of your application package to decide if they want to pick you.

Typical application package:

  1. Cover letter/personal statement
  2. Recommendation letters
  3. CV/resume
  4. Transcript
  5. Standardized test scores


How many letters will I need?

  • 5 for pre-professional health committee for medical or dental school
  • 3 for biology-related PhD programs
  • ~2 for many jobs
  • 1-2 for research fellowships


Steps to asking someone to write a Letter of Recommendation:

  1. Email and ask the (potential) writer if they can write you a positive letter of recommendation. Ask what information they would like from you. Most writers request 2-4 weeks minimum notice.
  2. Set up a meeting with the writer.
  3. Send all the necessary documents to the writer (name the files with your name and type of file. Example: J_Smith_Resume.pdf)
    • Letter of Recommendation Worksheet
    • Resume
    • Personal Statement
    • Complete list of specific schools and programs you are applying to with:
      • Due date
      • Method of submission
      • Link to the program description website
  4. Close to the due date, send one polite reminder email.
  5. Send a thank you note after the letter is written.
  6. Once you decide which fellowship/grad program/etc. you will participate in, let the writer kow.
  7. Keep in touch.


Here are some worksheets to use when soliciting a letter of recommendation:

Planning to Solicit a LOR Worksheet

Letter of Recommendation Worksheet (to give your letter writers)

Competencies Handout



Letter Writer pet peeves:

  • Not enough lead time: Initial contact, follow up contact(s)
  • Unorganized package & information
    • All documents should be in consistent format—files saved with your name_type (Ex. Kaufmann_CV_feb2014).
  • Missing information
    • Demonstrate your organization—make a check list and check it twice.
  • Poorly written resumes and personal statements
    • Ask your letter writer to give you comments and suggestions if they have time.
  • Student panic on due date—there is flexibility. Trust your letter writer. Do follow up.
  • Not identifying yourself—names, class section, other identifiers.
  • Never hearing if they got in or where they went. We want to celebrate you! We want to learn so we can help future students.


Words of caution:

  • Writers (and employers, etc.) may google you before they write a letter
  • Expect all interactions to be taken into account
  • Be polite and professional in emails, before/after class, during class, etc.


Letter of Recommendation Competencies

# Top competencies employers look for in employees - Forbes Magazine
% Core competencies for entering Medical Students - AAMC(American Association of Medical Colleges)
! Competencies for Research Fellows - NSF(National Science Foundation)

Thinking, Reasoning, & Science

critical thinking %

quantitative reasoning & analysis # % !

scientific inquiry %

intellectual merit !

technical knowledge & skills # &

science knowledge %

obtain & process information #

ability to perform creative research ! %


ethical responsibility %

reliability & dependability %

resilience & adaptability % !

capacity for improvement %

make decisions & solve problems #

plan, organize, & prioritize work #

motivation to succeed !

work independently !


service orientation % ! 

social skills % 

cultural competence % ! 

teamwork # % ! 

oral communication # % 

written communication # % ! 

leadership skills ! 

ability to sell & influence others #