Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

I write many letters of recommendation each year, sometimes over 50 in fall quarter alone, so thought I would post some tips on making the process a little easier. WWU has some thoughts on the matter here and here, if you would like to read other suggestions.

Start Early:  I recommend planning for job or graduate school applications early… at least in the spring if you plan to apply the following fall. For example:

  • Spring:  Talk to your profs about your job and grad school interest and mention recommendation letters. Start your applications (if you can), application statement, and NSF application (if applicable).
  • Summer: Finalize grad essays. Be sure to show them to professors for feedback!
  • Fall:  Send email requests for letters (remind them they met with you in the spring)
  • Winter & Spring: Wait anxiously and drink way too much coffee. Receive acceptance letters. Email thank you notes (or cards) to your professors.

Ask For Recommendations Early and In Person: Ask me in person during office hours and ask me waaaaaaay ahead of time, preferably September if you’re applying in late Fall or winter…  but try to ask at least month in advance. At a minimum, ask 2 weeks in advance… and if you ask the same week I hope you know me well and have been working in my lab. If I cannot provide one, do not try to push it. It may be that I don’t really know you (simply taking one class with me usually is not enough) or it may be that I’m writing many already and do not have time to write another carefully crafted letter. But do ask!

After I say yes, send me some useful material in one email:  Writing letters is challenging, so I like to have all sorts of useful material that I can draw from. Since I don’t have total recall memory, help me out by sending an email with the following items:

  1. A document containing the following items (If you want, use this Microsoft Word document:  Recommendation Request Form)
    • your name, email and phone number
    • a few key bullet points regarding your intended research or employment focus
    • a list of programs you are applying to, ordered by letter deadline (Indicate if web/email or paper form…. and if a form, attach it to the email, as well)
    • A list of all the courses you took from me; include year/quarter taken, and grade.
  2. The best version of your application statement (a draft is acceptable if you are still editing)
  3. A copy of your best previously-submitted work from one of the courses you took from me, along with grade.
  4. Your resume or CV
  5. Your transcript (unofficial are acceptable).

Fill In Recommendation Forms Completely:  Be sure to fill out my name and information correctly on the various request forms/websites.

  • Name: Dr. Sean Bruna
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Department: Department of Anthropology
  • University:  Western Washington University
  • Address: Department of Anthropology, MS9083
    516 High Street
    Bellingham, WA 98225-9083
  • Office Phone: (360) 650-2290
  • Fax: (360) 650-7668
  • Email:

Contact Me By Replying To The Original Email: If you realized you forgot something, of if you are reminding me about deadlines, reply to the same email you originally sent me. Remember, emails are “threaded”, so if you send me a reminder that a letter is due in one week, reply to the same request so I can see all of the emails and materials together.

Send Me Reminders: Send me an email reminder 2 weeks before a letter is due if I have not submitted it. If it is due in one week, call me or see me in person.  Don’t hesitate to remind me when letters are due!

Don’t Stress Out:  Applying to graduate school or jobs is practically a full time job, so no need to stress out if you start early. You can can always call me, email (yes, even a new email that is not “threaded” if you forget) or just stop in to talk.

Good luck!