Plan Ahead:

For most faculty, you should request a letter at least FOUR WEEKS in advance. Not only is it a courtesy to give your letter writers time to plan, but it also gives them ample time to write a high quality letter for you. Furthermore, asking a professor / instructor a day or two in advance of a due date may give the faculty member the impression that you don’t really care about the letter or the position you’re applying for. Of course, there are exceptions to this timeline, but you’ll want to be especially courteous when you make any last-minute requests.

In addition, many graduate and professional schools have early deadlines so you must pay regular attention to these or you may miss them.

Who to Ask(1,2):

Your letter writers should know you well, especially your academic achievements and potential. This means you’ve had them for at least one class and preferably more. You should choose professors / instructors of the classes in which you earned no lower than a “B” (unless you MUST include specific required coursework / recommendations). The more detailed and specific a recommendation / referral letter, the more effective it will be. You’ll also want to identify as many professors / instructors as possible since you’ll commonly need two or more writers for a school / job application. Finally, do not be offended if a professor / instructor declines to write for you – it might be that they feel they don’t know you well enough to write a strong letter on your behalf.

How to Ask:

Send a detailed and well-written email to the professors / instructors you’ve chosen asking if they would be willing to write for you. Your emails should address each professor / instructor individually using their full title and should include proper grammar (remember, this is a professional communication!). Be certain to indicate the type of evaluation / letter you need (e.g., a letter written, a rating form completed). You should also inquire if the faculty member can meet with you so you can talk about your plans and ask their advice (note: some faculty require a meeting before they’ll agree to provide an evaluation). This will show that you not only care about what they say about you, but that you also care about what they have to say to you.

How to Get Started:

First, send your email request(s) to the appropriate faculty.

If they agree to write for you, log on to the Western Oregon University Portal and complete the “Referrals & Recommendations for students” form.

Next, send the following to each confirmed letter writer:

  • A current resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • As much information you can about the details to be included in the letter (including any forms that the letter writer needs to complete). Details should include addresses and deadline information.
  • Any statement of interest you have written as part of your application

In ALL cases, keep your letter writers informed and provide polite reminders about due dates!

How to Finish the Process:

Once your letters have been completed, be certain to send each writer a personal thank you.  This should typically be done within a month and is most appropriately expressed via a hand-written thank you.  If hand-written notes aren’t feasible, then send a warm and heart-felt email at the very least.  In addition, your letter-writers are always interested in learning about you and the outcome of your applications.  And even though this may include unsuccessful attempts, this information will help your letter writers hone their skills.

1For certain professional schools (e.g., medical, dental, physician assistant), you will need to work with the faculty member who has been assigned to that particular discipline. For a current list, see:

Biology Faculty Advising Assignments

2Pre-medicine students will need to have individual letters, committee letters, or both submitted on their behalf depending on the requirements of the medical schools applied to. You will want to consult with your pre-medicine advisor for guidance.



Biology Department

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