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Asking for Letters of Reference

You are ready to apply for a professional school, graduate school, or a job. So how do you ask a reference letter?

Who to ask?

Before you sending in your application, think about who would be an appropriate person to honestly evaluate you.  In an application to Veterinary or Medical School, it is appropriate to ask your academic adviser, professor, or undergraduate research mentor for a reference.  It is critical that you ask yourself how well you think these people know you.  If the answer is "pretty well," by all means put this person’s name on your reference list to ask.  If the person does not know you well or your qualifications, it is difficult for them to write a quality reference letter. 

When to ask?

Do not wait till the last minute to ask for a reference letter.  You should not assume that your adviser will drop what he/she is doing to write a letter on your behalf.  If you wait and ask at the last minute, he/she will either refuse your request or the letter will be rushed and will not be a good one.  It takes time to write a strong reference letter, so you should give your reference-writer at least a month. 

How to ask?

Make an appointment to ask for a recommendation letter.  Discuss your plans in person and explain why you need a recommendation letter.  If asking in person is not possible, make a phone call.  Then follow up with an e-mail.  Provide as much information about the job, or school you are applying.  Include a detailed up to-date resume along with a personal statement (if appropriate) or cover letter so that your reference-writer could combine some of your qualifications with her/his observations about you.  Also provide your career goals; why you choose to apply to a certain veterinary or medical school; and your transcripts so that your reference-writer has all the information to write a good letter.  It is important to “waive” your rights to see the reference letters which should remain confidential.  It demonstrates to the readers of your letters that the references are candid and sincere.

Acknowledge

Whether or not you get the job or internship, or gain acceptance to the professional school you applied for, it is always a good idea to drop a “thank you” note to your reference writer.