Applying for a job or internship? In most cases, employers will call your references. For most other competitive opportunities, chances are you will need strong and descriptive letters of recommendation to help set you apart from other applicants.
Think you might apply to graduate or professional school, or for a national fellowship? Letters of recommendation will be critical to your candidacy. You might even need letters well before you graduate, i.e. for a summer research grant or enhancement program. The bottom line: you need to cultivate strong references while you are at UVM, and the sooner, the better.
Professors expect to write letters, but it’s your responsibility to give them something to write. Ask good questions, and contribute to the conversations in class. Stop by office hours to clarify course material or revisit an interesting topic. Multiple contexts can also help. Take another class with a professor you enjoyed. If you distinguish yourself, you might be asked to serve as a TA, or assist with their research if that genuinely interests you.
Consider this before asking for a letter:
- What if any specific guidelines are provided?
- Who could make a convincing case you are a strong fit based on direct observations of you in class, on the job, in the lab, etc.
- A letter writer’s title can be impressive, but it is their details that count. Don’t sacrifice the latter for the former.
- Avoid personal (aka subjective) references.
- Still not sure who to ask? Seek advising.
Help Them Help You:
Ask, “Do you think you could write a strong recommendation for me?” If they can’t, you want to know this outright so you can avoid bland, vague or mediocre letters. When you get the “yes,” ask if they need other information. Be sure to provide clear directions for submission, and plenty of lead-time.
Lastly, don’t forget to thank them. Better yet, let them know how it all turns out.