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Letters of Recommendation


Advising

Most graduate programs require three letters of recommendation. Choosing your recommender carefully is essential for an effective letter. Before your senior year, try to acquaint yourself with your professors through office hours and active participation in class discussions.   If you are taking time off, you should still ask for letters of recommendation before you leave school!

Who should write my letters?

  • At least two of the letters should come from history faculty or a faculty member in a history-related field.
  • The best recommendations come from thesis advisors, History 600 seminar instructors, independent study supervisors, and faculty who have led your discussion sections. These are people who can attest to the quality of your work and the capability of your mind.
  • If you cannot think of any faculty members who know your work or personality in depth, it’s not too late to start going to office hours (most professors’ office hours are under-utilized). Also, think of Teaching Assistants with whom you’ve worked closely.

How do I ask an instructor to write one?

  • Recommenders should be contacted well in advance (more than a month) of application deadlines. As deadlines come up, gently remind your recommenders to submit their letters.
  • Set up a time to talk to your potential recommender in person, so you can remind him/her of who you are and what class you had with them. Get a feel for how enthusiastic they are about writing one—it’s a good indicator of the quality of the letter.
  • When you meet with your recommender, provide the following materials to help them write a detailed letter:
    • Personal Statement: This can be a rough draft, but needs to succinctly describe your experience and motivations for pursuing graduate study. Personal Statement
    • Curriculum Vitae or Resume: A C.V. is an academic resume that includes research, academic service, and language qualifications. For an example, see: Cynthia H. Wingfield C.V, Rhonda Johnson Resume, Alex E. Smith Resume
    • Writing: If you have saved papers that you’ve written for your recommender that they have corrected, provide them for review. If you don’t have an original, try finding the file and printing out a new copy.
    • List of schools you are applying to with instructions and deadlines for submission: Let your recommender know if the forms are online or hardcopies, provide the web and street addresses for each institution.
    • Stamped, addressed envelopes if recommenders need to send letter by mail.

Remember to gently remind your recommenders of deadlines well in advance of due dates! You are ultimately responsible for whether or not they get in on time.

Check out the UW Career Services Interfolio Service. This is particularly useful if you want to take time off and need to have letters kept on file: http://www.lssaa.wisc.edu/careers/faculty/interfolio.html and scroll to the middle of the page.

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