Guidelines for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

One of the most important part of any application is the letter of recommendation.  As members of the physics department, we feel that an important part of our job is to write these letters for you.  In order to expedite the process we will need some assistance from you.

Selection and screening committees will have access to the information provided by your application, as supplemented by transcripts and test scores.  However, they particularly rely on faculty references to answer the following sorts of questions:

  1. Does the student have the necessary combination of skills, abilities, work habits, group skills, preparation, maturity, drive and long-range goals for the appointment?
  2. How does this student compare with others at a similar stage who have gone on in this graduate school or other program?
  3. Are the student's grades and GRE scores reflective of his or her potential, or do they understate or overstate his or her chances for success in this program?
  4. What are the special qualities, achievements or experiences that make this student stand out in the national (or sometimes international) competition for this position or admission?
  5. How would this student handle the duties normally assigned to beginning teaching assistants?  How has the student performed in paid employment in your department?
  6. What is your overall recommendation?

Background Information to be Provided
When you request a letter of recommendation, please provide the following information.  This background will be useful to put this position into the context of your overall preparation and career plans.
  1. Provide the professor with a copy of your GAC degree audit.  GRE (or LSAT, MCAT, etc.) scores and percentiles are also helpful.  ETS sends GRE scores to us if you listed GAC as a school to receive them, which we strongly encourage you to do, but they may not arrive in time for some of your letter deadlines.
  2. A brief synopsis of any activities outside your course work (e.g. summer internships, research, technical employment) which you believe would make you better qualified for the position for which you are applying.  Please indicate whether you hold a Partners in Scholarship or other merit-based financial aid awards here at GAC.
  3. In your own words, explain why you are applying for this particular position (or graduate school).  Make mention of your past studies (i.e. your preparation) as well as your overall future plans.  This information should be communicated either in writing or via a brief chat.
  4. You should also mention if there are any special items that you would specifically prefer that the faculty to discuss in your application.  

Paperwork to be Filled Out by Applicant

  1. Type in as much information on the form as possible. Make sure that you type in your personal information as well as the sections that identify the professor who will be writing the recommendation.  For those applications that have forms, use the full name and title for the professor using the following style and information:

    Name Dr. [First, Middle Initial, Last]
    Title Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, etc.
    Department Physics
    Institution Gustavus Adolphus College
    Address 800 West College Ave., St. Peter, MN 56082-1498

    If the school or program requests a letter but does not supply a form, give the professor a piece of paper with all the specifics, person, address, deadline date, position & program to which you are applying, etc.

    When requesting multiple letters, whether on forms or stand-alone, include a check list of all requested letters, with the deadline dates. In this check list, indicate whether their is a separate form required for each letter of recommendation.  Make helpful comments by each school's name to clarify that particular application.  This is particularly important if you are applying for different sorts of programs at different places.

  2. Type a stamped envelope for each letter you have requested, and be sure to address the envelope correctly.  Include the return address of the professor who will be writing the letter. You may obtain Gustavus letterhead envelopes from the department. If you supply your own envelopes, for the return address use: Dr. [First, Middle Initial, Last Name], Department of Physics, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN 56082-1498. A few schools ask that the student package all the signed and sealed letters with his or her application, so no stamp is used in that case.
  3. Sign the appropriate line in the waiver section.   We recommend that they sign the "I do waive..." line.

Do Not Wait Until the Last Minute to Request Letters! It is not unusual for a professor to receive requests for 40-80 letters between early December and mid-February. Nearly all require some sort of form to be filled out, in addition to writing the letter.

You are welcome to use the department's long-distance phones during business hours for essential calls in connection with the application process. Just ask one of the faculty or Linda Hewitt, the department secretary, and the will find you a phone. Leave a list of the numbers you called with your name so that they know these are authorized calls.

Finally, keep your recommenders informed of changes in your plans and applications, and, of course your acceptances and turn-downs.

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Last modification: Friday, March 28, 2003
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