Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards

Letters of recommendation

An outstanding letter of recommendation can boost the competitiveness of an application by giving insight into the applicant’s character as well as complimenting and confirming the information provided in the rest of the application.

A great recommendation letter will:

  • Demonstrate that the writer knows the student well
  • Indicate understanding of the letter’s purpose
  • Give specific examples of why the student is a good candidate

Building relationships is the key to getting great letters of recommendation down the road. 

Make an effort to get to know professors, TAs, and advisers as you move through your UW experience, before you ever need letters of recommendation.  We encourage you to go to office hours and make appointments to meet with professors especially.  This will give you a chance to get to know, develop relationships with, and possibly even network with professors.  When the time comes for letters of recommendation, your professors and advisers will know you well, understand your goals, and be ready to write stellar letters!

“The Ask” 

When it’s time to ask for letters of recommendation, plan ahead as much as possible.  Ideally, you should give your recommenders 4 – 6 weeks to write and submit your letters.  However, if you find out about an opportunity at the last minute, you can always ask recommenders if they are able to help you. But especially when asking at the last minute, be understanding of their busy schedules, don’t make a habit of rushing, be prepared for a “no” and have alternative options, and make the process as easy on them as possible.

If possible, arrange a meeting to ask for a letter of recommendation.  Bring a folder to the meeting with the following items: 

  • 1-page cover letter with the following information: The names of the opportunities and information about the programs, due dates for letters, Coursework, significant projects/accomplishments you worked on for them (include dates, grades, and project titles), your name and contact information in case they have questions,let them know that you’ll check in with them closer to the due date
  • Resume or CV including extracurricular activities, research projects, awards, and a list of related classes
  • Any required forms
  • Draft of your personal statement
  • Stamped, addressed envelopes if needed or instructions for submitting the letters online or elsewhere

At the meeting, tell the potential letter writer about the opportunity you are applying for and why you are so interested in the opportunity.  Then, explain why you think they would be a good person to highlight your accomplishments (give examples if you can) and ask if they would be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation.  If the potential recommender says yes, give them your folder with all of the necessary information.  Whether they say yes or no, thank them for meeting with you.

Follow up with your letter writers!

After you receive a decision about your application – whether or not the application is successful – follow up with your letter writers to let them know what happened.  Ideally, you should follow up in writing with a card.  You could also follow up in an email, by phone, or in person.  At that time, thank them again for supporting you and give an update on your activities.  This step is key not only because it’s polite, but also because you may need to ask for more letters from these individuals in the future!

Keep in touch

Staying in contact with professors, TAs, and advisers after you leave the UW will help you to build strong relationships and get strong letters of recommendation in the future – even if you’re applying for grad school, fellowships, or other opportunities a couple of years after you graduate from UW.  Here are some ideas for staying in touch with professors and advisers:

  • Send postcards, emails, or photos as updates – put it on your calendar to send updates 3 or 4 times a year!
  • Ask if you can help advertise UW programs you’ve participated in with quotes for a website, Facebook posts, etc.
  • Call or stop by to give an update on your activities.