Letters of Reference
How to Obtain Letters of Reference
You may need letters of reference from instructors at Queen's to support applications for graduate school, scholarships, study-abroad programmes, and even some jobs. The following guidelines are designed to make this process efficient for your referees and thus to help get you the strongest recommendations possible.
Note that these are only guidelines. Different instructors may have different requirements. Once you have secured the agreement of your referees, ask what they require from you.
Choosing a Reference
There is a simple rule for deciding whom to ask for letters: choose the instructors who know you best. This might not be those from whom you have received the highest marks. An instructor who assigned you an A may not be your best referee if you were one of 100 students and never spoke in class. Since an effective letter of reference must be specific, you should choose referees who know you well enough to write in detail about your academic interests and qualifications. Instructors with whom you have studied more than once are usually good choices because they can comment on your development. If you have a friendly relationship with an instructor and are satisfied with the marks you received in her classes, chances are she would make a good referee.
It takes time to write a good letter, and instructors may receive dozens of requests each year. They may refuse last-minute requests, and in any case their letters will be most effective if they don’t have to be written in a hurry. Ask at least two weeks before the letters are due; the more time the better.
Have your paperwork in order
Including your request form. In accordance with the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, each of your referees needs a signed REFERENCE REQUEST CONSENT FORM (PDF 205KB) clearly indicating, among other things, whether you permit him to consult your academic record in preparing his letter. Fill out and sign this form and submit it to each referee along with all other materials. Please note that this form is mandatory (though permission to consult your records is not); if you omit the form, your referee will not be able to provide the letters you need. If you are unsure how to complete it, consult with your referee.
Are there other forms for your referee to fill out? Supply them promptly, and don’t forget to fill out any portions that require your input. Indicate the deadline for each letter or recipient clearly in writing. Inform your referee whether the letter is to be sent directly to the recipient or whether you will collect it. If you want your referee to send the letter on directly, be sure to include addressed envelopes with sufficient postage.
If you request more than one letter or that the same letter be sent to multiple recipients, make a list for your referee clearly indicating all deadlines. The more organized you are, the more you will impress your referee with your professionalism.
These requirements may vary with the referee and with the nature of your application(s), but as a rule you should be prepared to provide each referee with the following:
A brief note explaining what you are applying for and why it is important to you.
A résumé indicating current contact information, recent employment, achievements, and skills relevant to your application(s).
A writing sample. An essay that you wrote for a class taught by your referee is a good choice, for it will help him or her to remember your work. If you feel that an essay from another class better represents your abilities, include it too. If your application includes a writing sample, let your referee see this as well.
An unofficial, recent copy of your transcript (optional). Note that if you include this, you must select one of the options on the Reference Request Consent Form (see above) authorizing your referee to consult your academic record.
If an instructor agrees to write a letter of recommendation for you, don’t assume that she has also agreed to act as a general reference. Ask permission before including her name on your résumé.
Let your referee know whether your application was successful. Instructors who have taken the trouble to write for you will want to know how you fared. And when all is done, write a note (email is generally sufficient) to say thank you.
Page last updated June 10, 2011