Article slightly modified from here.
1. Ask someone who knows you well and who will be able to discuss in specific detail what distinguishes you and why you are a strong candidate.
- Be sure to ask: “Do you feel you know me and my abilities well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for this application?” You’ve now given the professor the opportunity to decline gracefully. If the answer is “no,” don’t push. This inquiry may be done via email-if you already have an established relationship with the potential recommender.
2. Request letters well in advance of the application deadline. Two to four weeks is often adequate, but it is often helpful to consult with the recommender to see how much time they prefer. Doing so is especially important for letters for major fellowships and for letters that need to be written over the summer.
3. Schedule an appointment with your recommenders to discuss the position/scholarship/school, its selection criteria, your most recent and commendable activities, and to suggest what each letter-writer might emphasize. (You may want to let your recommenders know who your other recommenders are, so that they can write letters that complement rather than repeat one another.)
4. Bring this to the meetings:
- A current resume or a list of your activities and honors. Be sure to include things like: internships, work, and research experience; community service; conference papers and presentations; other creative or leadership experiences.
- A copy of your personal statement, project proposal, course of study proposal, or other descriptive information from the application. Information about career plans, foreign travel experience, or non-academic interests is sometimes also requested. If you have not yet completed these materials, provide an informal version in the form of a 1-2 page statement.
- Any pertinent reminders about the work you have done for this professor that will help you highlight what makes you a strong candidate- past papers or exams are especially helpful.
- A copy of your transcript. This can be an unofficial copy and is to give your recommender an overview of your academic program to-date as well as your grades. If your grades are not what you think they should be, be ready to identify any extenuating circumstances (e.g. family or other responsibilities, number or level of courses taken).
- The official description of the criteria that the recommender’s letter should address and the deadline by which the letter is due. Supplement this description with your own suggestions as to what you would like your recommender to emphasize.
- Any cover sheets or official recommendation forms that should accompany the letter. Be sure to complete any section that pertains to you: name, address to which the letter should be sent, etc. Each scholarship is different. Make sure you have waived your right to access under the Family Rights and Privacy Act. Selection committees often fail to take non-restricted letters seriously.
- If you are asking for more than one letter (as for graduate school or multiple fellowships), provide the following information on a separate sheet, as well as stamped and addressed envelopes for each fellowship:
- To whom each letter should be addressed (individual or committee, relevant titles, address).
- Whether each letter should be mailed directly to the funding agency (as in the case of the Rhodes, NSF, Mellon) or remitted to Fellowship Programs for inclusion in the application packet (Truman, Goldwater, Udall, Marshall).
- The deadline. Be sure to distinguish between a “postmark” and a “received by” due date.
5. Be ready to discuss: why you seek the recommendation, as well as what strengths, qualifications, preparation, achievements, skills or goals make you a strong candidate for this opportunity and help distinguish you from other candidates.
6. Finally, be sure to write your recommenders a note of thanks and let them know what happens!