How to Request a Letter of Recommendation

Attention College Students: Do you need to request recommendation letters for graduate school applications, summer festivals, or future employment, but aren’t sure what to do?  Here’s a brief guide.

Lay the Groundwork: When you request a letter of recommendation from a teacher or colleague, you are asking them to make an assessment of your potentialas a student, performer, or what have youbased on their experiences. Their honest evaluation of your personality and capabilities reflects not only on you, but on them as well. It should go without saying that the people you ask for recommendations should think highly of you, and vice versa, yet stories abound concerning students who do mediocre work in a course and then ask the same professor for a recommendation. This makes for an awkward situation on both sides, and is to be avoided if at all possible! If you have any doubts about whether someone will give you a positive recommendation, it would probably be a good choice to find someone else to write for you. If you have any intentions at all of pursuing graduate study, or seeking employment in your field, start laying the groundwork for future recommendations today!  Does this mean you have to earn an “A” in every course, and be a “perfect” student all the time? Not at all!  It simply means that on the whole, you should be putting your best effort forward the majority of the time, and taking responsibility for your own education. Trust me, it will pay off when it’s recommendation time.

Plan Ahead, Ask Early: By now, a majority of students who intend to pursue graduate study in the fall of 2012 have submitted their applications and are either in the middle of their auditions/interviews or have already completed them. Summer music festival deadlines are also quickly approaching, and it’s not too early to be thinking ahead if you want to apply for summer or graduate programs for 2013. Every graduate music program I’ve heard of, and many summer festivals, require some type of recommendation, either from an applied teacher, an academic instructor, or both. If possible, request a recommendation in person months ahead of the deadline, and follow up with an email pretty soon thereafter. I usually don’t commit to anything verbally, simply because it’s nice to have a written record of any recommendation requests. However, the verbal request (with email follow up) is a good move when practical because it shows that you are genuinely interested in a recommendation from that person.  Many grad. school recommendations can now be submitted entirely online, and usually contain an objective component as well as a more subjective one. Your references are usually notified of these pending recommendations through an automatically-generated email. Make sure the person who is recommending you knows to expect this email message! In an era when email inboxes routinely get flooded with junk mail, it can be very easy to overlook one of these computer-generated requests. If you do plan ahead and notify your references well in advance, also be prepared to send a friendly reminder if you haven’t received your recommendation (or if it hasn’t been electronically submitted) a few weeks before the deadline. We all get busy, and sometimes things slip through the cracks – not because they aren’t important – but because they were one of many important things on a long list. I personally would be very thankful to receive a reminder about a recommendation I’d forgotten to submit.

If there are certain areas of your academic/musical career you would like the person writing for you to emphasize, let them know. It may also be helpful to include a C.V. or resume with your request so that they have something to refer to when writing about your activities and/or qualifications. If you wait until the week or day before a recommendation is due to ask for one, you are risking 1) the person saying “no, I don’t have the time,” or 2) writing a less than stellar recommendation for you.  That being said, I try to honor any and all recommendation requests I receive, and I take the job very seriously. I was (and am) very fortunate to have colleagues and former teachers who have written great letters for me, and I try to do the same.

Do the Right Thing, Say Thank You!: In the hustle and bustle of preparing applications and requesting recommendations, it can be very easy to check the “recommendations” box on your list and then move on. Please take the time to thank those who have written recommendations for you – it really does mean something to us! Write a brief thank you right away, and then follow up later with an update. Include information like whether you were accepted into the program/festival for which you were applying and what your plans are for the future. Not only is this the right thing to do from a personal perspective, but it also completes the recommendation cycle and lays the foundation for any future recommendations you may request from that person. I have many colleagues and former teachers who have written recommendations for me multiple times, for which I am extremely grateful.

Ok – I think those are the basic things to consider when requesting recommendations.  Do you have any suggestions or advice that should be added to the above?  Feel free to comment below.

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