Details to Give Recommendation Letter Writers

An excited student reading a letter

SDI Productions / Getty Images 

What information will a person writing a letter of recommendation need to make your letter stand out? First, don't assume that your letter writer will already know everything there is to know about you or that they will remember every detail about your credentials—you are likely not the only person they are recommending and they might have a lot on their plate.

That said, you will need to provide any information that you would like to appear in your letter of recommendation and anything that would be helpful to your recommender in getting to know you better. This information makes writing a letter of recommendation easier for the person who is donating much of their time to this favor and it also increases your chances of receiving a letter that highlights what you want it to highlight.

In other words, a comprehensive list of information is worth the minimal time and effort it will take to compile for all involved. Making this information easily available for your recommendation letter writer can go a long way in producing the dazzling letter that will move you forward. Decide who you're going to ask and get started giving them what they need.

Who Should You Ask to Write a Recommendation Letter?

You should try to decide on potential letter writers as soon as possible in any application process, but this is often easier said than done. Picking a person to vouch for your character and skills during one of the most monumental periods of your life is a difficult decision, and certainly, one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

To begin narrowing your options down, think of a few people with integrity that you look up to and with whom you have strong relationships. You want to select individuals that, when asked about you, would answer positively and honestly. Next, try to vary your selection so that your recommenders are not all from the same place—employers and admissions committees want to see the "big picture", so provide as much range of perspective as possible.

Ultimately, the best person to write a recommendation letter for you is someone who knows you well and can provide a truthful testimonial of your abilities, performance, and character. As a rule, do not ask peers, family members, close friends, or other biased sources to recommend you.

Great people to ask for a letter include:

  • A professor with whom you've worked or studied
  • Someone who has earned the degree that you are seeking
  • A college-educated person who has supervised you in a job or internship that relates to the program in which you are applying
  • A source who has academically evaluated you in some capacity
  • A supervisor or manager that can speak to your work ethic and organization
  • An advisor from an extracurricular activity that can offer insight into your ability to work in or lead a team

Information and Items to Give Your Writers

Now that you've gotten the hard part of selecting your recommendation team out of the way, it's time to present them with pertinent information. Ideally, you are able to do this upon requesting a letter. Create a folder or digital file containing these items for each writer. Remember to give them a minimum of one month's notice before the letter's due date.

  • The date that this letter is due, submission details, and other logistical information
  • The correct spelling of your full name
  • Your current GPA
  • List of relevant courses, including any major projects or presentations
  • Titles and abstracts of research papers written
  • Honor societies and/or academic clubs to which you belong
  • Scholarly awards won
  • Professional activities in which you have recently participated
  • Relevant work experience (paid and unpaid)
  • Service activities both related and not related to professional goals
  • A description of professional goals (for use by writers—let them know here what you hope to get out of college, your intended major, etc.)
  • A curriculum vitae
  • Copies of admissions essays
  • Information about your experiences with the letter writer such as courses taken, papers written, etc. (again, your writers might not remember every detail)
  • Any additional personal information that you feel is relevant to your academic experiences