Steve Lindaas Ph.D.

Information concerning Letter of Recommendation requests

Who should you ask?

A letter of recommendation serves to help confirm the case you are making in your application. It is important that your letter writer knows something about you, your research, activities, academics etc. A better letter results if the letter writer has interacted with you directly. Being able to comment on any of these aspects of your life through direct observation is more important than the title, awards or number of letters after the letter writer's name.

Most applications ask if you want to waive your rights to see letters of recommendation and other material that is gathered as part of your application. By waiving your rights to see your letters etc. you are making these letters confidential. A confidential letter carries more weight to whoever is evaluating your application. It implies that the letter writer has the freedom to be candid. If you are worried about what some one might say about you, then you need to have a candid conversation with that person. You might want to consider whether you should request a letter of recommendation from that person.

Requirements if I am to write a letter for you.

If I have agreed to write a recommendation for you, please provide me the following infomation for each request:

  1. Program name, contact information and deadline for the letter request.
  2. Any necessary forms - make sure to complete your information, check the waiver statement and sign the form
  3. A copy of your personal statement (if applicable) from your application. A draft copy is fine.
  4. A copy of your resume (or curriculum vitae) and an unofficial copy of your transcript

Furthermore, at least two weeks before the first letter is due, send me your answers to as many of the following questions as you can (the more details the better):

  • What is your name, year, and major(s)?
  • For what are you applying? (REU, internship, job, scholarship, graduate school, etc.) Be as specific as possible.
  • List the programs to which you are applying, together with addresses, names and titles of people I should send to, and due dates.
  • How long have I known you, and what is my relationship(s) to you? (instructor, advisor, etc.) Have you been a Learning Assitant for me? If so, for what class(es) and when?
  • For what class(es) have I taught you and how did you distinguish yourself in these class(es)?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What are some of your academic accomplishments? (including research, REUs etc.)
  • What are some of your nonacademic accomplishments? (organizations, atheletics, arts etc.)
  • What makes me particularly qualified to write a letter for you? In other words, what am I uniquely able to say about you that can strengthen your application?
  • What makes you particularly qualified for this position/honor/award?
  • What are your long term goals and will this position/honor/award help? If so, how?
  • Additional comments such as hobbies, interesting jobs, etc.

Please feel free to send me reminders as deadlines approach. You can also stop by and chat about other ways you can make the letter writing process go as smoothly as possible for you and all your letter writers.

Good luck!

My Information:

Title Professor and Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Phone (218) 477-4268
FAX (218) 477-2290
US Mail Minnesota State University Moorhead
Department of Physics and Astronomy
1104 7th Avenue South
Moorhead, MN 56563 USA
E mail

Adapted from Dr Martha Wallace, Bjork Distinguished Professor, St. Olaf College with acknowledgement to Michael Orrison, Harvey Mudd College


Sending requests and information via e-mail is absolutely fine but don't forget that talking to someone in-person is still the best way to communicate.


In general...

It is better to show long-term, strong, sustained involvmeent in a few (or even one) organization rather than peripherial involvement with many organizations.

A CV that shows strong involvement in a couple of organizations along with solid academics is better than a CV that only demonstrates academic excellence.