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Requesting Letters

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What is the role of a recommendation or language evaluation?

A letter of recommendation is a specific opportunity for someone who knows you well to confirm that:

  • your plans fit with who you are and your interests
  • your project is sound
  • you are qualified and prepared to take it on

Your recommender can also be a great resource for guidance and support. Have conversations with potential recommenders early on. This will give you a chance to take advantage of all their feedback and give your recommender time to write a strong letter based on specific knowledge of your proposal.

Think about whom to ask

Asking the right people is key.  Your recommender should be someone who:

  • knows you well.
  • has appropriate expertise and experience in the field.
  • has first-hand knowledge of your background/experience in a relevant setting (academic or professional).
  • has good knowledge of the preparation you have undertaken for this project.

Asking for multiple letters:

If you need to request more than one letter of recommendation, you'll want to think about:

  • how the letters of recommendation will complement one another
  • how the letters speak to different aspects of your application

You will also want to think about what the fellowship is looking for. Consider:

  • what are the skills/leadership qualities/experiences/values the fellowship committee is looking for?
  • who is best-placed to talk about things you have done which demonstrate these?
  • which of these elements would you like each recommender to focus on?

Language evaluations

You will want to ask someone who has taught you recently in the relevant language at Yale or elsewhere. Even if you haven't studied a language at Yale, you may still be able to get a language evaluation from a Yale language instructor, if you ask well in advance.

Contact the relevant language department or the Center for Language Study.

Build a relationship first

Building a relationship with your recommender will allow them to write more informed and more personally engaged letters that address what makes your proposal not only feasible but also worth supporting.

  • Get to know your recommender as a mentor and let them get to know you.
  • Discuss your larger interests and goals.
  • Discuss the specifics of your project/fellowship application.
  • Ask for their advice about potential projects, readings, courses of study, etc. 

For tips on establishing a relationship with a faculty member/adviser, attend one of the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning's workshops on Cultivating Faculty Mentors.

Schedule an appointment

Once you have discussed your overall plans, it is a good idea to discuss the specific fellowship to which you are applying. Your recommender will need an overview of:

  • what you're proposing to do with the fellowship.
  • what makes you a good candidate.
  • what the fellowship committee might be looking for.

To help them establish this overview, it's helpful to share with your recommender:

  • A current résumé.
  • A copy/draft of your personal statement, or fellowship proposal.
  • A link to the specific fellowship information site.
  • 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 (unofficial is fine)
  • The official description of the criteria the recommender's letter should address
  • The timeline you are working to and the deadline of the fellowship application.

Tip: Write your recommenders and language evaluators a note of thanks—and don't forget to let them know what happens.

Ask well in advance of the deadline

Three to four weeks may be adequate, but it is helpful to consult with the recommender or language evaluator to see how much lead-time they need. This is especially true for letters and evaluations for major fellowships, letters and evaluations to be written over breaks, and letters and evaluations needed for popular deadlines.

If a recommender asks you to provide a draft of your own recommendation…

You may ethically provide a list of bullet points you would like the letter to address and/or a factual narrative of key achievements (avoid adjectives)—along with other supporting information (such as listed above). Explain that you are unable to write a draft that provides the kind of judgment and comparative evaluation that only the recommender can provide and that helps make for a strong recommendation. You may refer them to this website.

Looking for more? Try the helpful article by Leonard Cassuto in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops on Cultivating Faculty Mentors/Recommendations