Cover Letter Reference Request Letters

The Graduate School Letter of Recommendation Form

Most graduate school applications provide applicants with a specific letter of recommendation form to be completed by faculty. The form is either available online as a downloadable pdf document or an integral component of the online application form. In some cases faculty’s email are submitted as part of the application and the graduate school will contact the faculty for your recommendations. The Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) and American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) provide their own program-specific letter of recommendation forms. Visit the Law School Admission Information website and Medical School Admission Information website  for information about the LSDAS and AMCAS formats.

The FERPA waiver

The form offers the applicant the opportunity to waive the rights associated with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). By signing the FERPA waiver (or checking the box on an on-line form), the applicant surrenders the right to ever see the letter, whether the applicant is admitted or not. If you sign the FERPA waiver, the graduate program will understand that the person writing the letter of recommendation is being honest and candid in the letter, knowing that you will never see the letter. Therefore, letters of recommendation accompanied by a FERPA waiver signature carry greater validity in the eyes of graduate program selection committees.

When to Ask Professors

As you consider when to ask professors for letters of recommendation, be mindful of the application deadline (the date by which the letter must reach the graduate program) and how incredibly busy your professors are with preparing lessons, conducting research, correcting papers/exams, and other non-teaching related responsibilities, such as curriculum revision and search committee work to hire new faculty. Also consider the reality that you’re one of many students seeking a letter of recommendation. For all of these reasons, it’s important to give professors ample time to write the letter of recommendation. If possible, ask them early in the semester (at least two months in advance), before they are consumed with correcting mid-term and final exams.

How to Ask Professors

You are encouraged to request a letter of recommendation in writing. As you can see from the sample letter of request below, the student provides the professor with the graduate schools’ letter of recommendation forms, a list of schools to which the student is applying, directions for how to submit the recommendation, a summary of courses taken with the professor, examples of larger projects and papers completed for the courses taken with the professor, the grades earned in the courses, the student’s GPA, and a summary of extracurricular and work activities. Professors usually welcome all of this information as it helps remind them of your achievements, which makes it easier for them to reference the achievements in the letter they write. If you do not provide this information, you are counting on professors to accurately recollect who you are and what you accomplished in their classes. If you prompt their memory with specific examples, you enhance their ability to cite specific examples of your accomplishments. And, a letter of recommendation containing specific examples is a stronger letter of recommendation.

Sample Letter of Request

Sept. 15, 2012

Dear Dr. Rankin,

I’m writing to ask if you would be willing to write me a supportive letter of recommendation for my graduate school applications to the counselor education programs at the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine, and the University of New Hampshire. The application deadline for each school is February 15. I have enclosed a recommendation form required by each application and signed the FERPA waiver indicating that I surrender my right to see the letter at any time.

As you may recall, I have taken two courses with you: Child Counseling and Psychopathology and Introduction to Counseling and Personality. I earned an A- in each course and wrote my 10-page final papers on The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Children with Bi-Polar Disorder and The Influence of Adlerian Psychology on the Work of Dreikurs. Currently, my GPA is 3.47.

I also have enclosed a copy of my resume so you can see the extracurricular and work experience I have amassed during my four years at UMF. I think my part-time work as a Behavioral Specialist I for Atlantic Home Health Services has given me useful direct service experience. My clients have included children ages 7 to 12 with Opposition Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Autism, and mild mental retardation. Working one-to-one with these children has given me the opportunity to move from theory to practice with the concepts I learned in your Child Counseling and Psychopathology course.

Thank your for considering my request for letters of recommendation. If you would like further information, please feel welcome to contact me at x7232 or jack.johnson@maine.edu.

Sincerely,

(Jack’s signature goes here)

Jack Johnson

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Sample Letters and Email Messages Asking for a Reference

If you're applying for a job, it's likely you'll need a reference. It's a good idea to get references lined up before you start a job search. That way you'll have a list of people who can recommend you ready to share with prospective employers. You can ask for a reference with a phone call, or an email or a hard-copy letter, but either way, you'll want to write your request carefully. 

Here are tips on how to ask for a reference, as well as sample letters that you can use as a guideline while writing your own reference request.

Choose Your References Wisely

The person giving you a reference may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire, respond to an email, or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. If the person doesn't know you well, it'll show. Choose someone who thinks highly of you, and can speak fluently about your career and talents. It's important to make sure that the individual who is recommending you for employment can give you not just a reference, but a good reference. Here are tips for choosing the best person to provide a job reference. 

Always Give the Person You're Asking an Out

Make sure to give the person an easy way to decline providing you with a reference. A bad reference can be the difference between you getting a job offer— or not. It would be preferable to have the person decline to provide a reference, rather than write a halfhearted or negative letter.

In your reference request, you can say things like "I know end-of-the-year evaluations are due soon, so if you're too busy to provide a reference, I completely understand" or "It's been five years since we worked together, so if you don't feel comfortable speaking to someone about my work habits after so long, please just let me know." 

Give Your Reference a Heads-Up

Do not give out anyone's name as a reference without their permission and without knowing what they are going to say about you. The individual who is giving you a reference needs to know ahead of time that they may be contacted regarding a reference for you. Once you have permission, let your reference providers know when you share their names with prospective employers.

Ask Nicely

Former co-workers and managers are under no obligation to serve as a reference. You are asking for a favor, so be polite and warm in your request. You can also mention why you thought the person would be an ideal reference. 

How to Ask for a Reference Letter

References can be requested in writing or by email. If there are forms the recommender needs to complete, you may want to send an email message asking for the recommendation, then follow up with a written letter and the forms.

In your letter requesting a reference, it can be helpful to provide the potential recommender with background information, including your current resume and a link to the job description (or a short summary). You can also briefly mention specific qualities and skills of yours that you would like your reference to mention.  If you have any information about how the company will be reaching out to the recommender — phone, email, etc. — you can include those details as well. 

It's a good idea to review sample letters asking for a reference to get ideas for your own letters. These samples, both written and email, include the best ways to phrase your request and how to ask someone to be your reference.

Thank Your Reference Writer

When you get a new job, don't forget to send a thank you note to the individuals who provided you with a reference.

Not only will it let your reference giver know that they have helped you. It will also let them know how much you appreciated the job search help.

Letter Samples Requesting a Reference

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