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Letters of Recommendation

Most applications for REUs, fellowships, grants, scholarships, and graduate programs require 2–3 letters of recommendation. When choosing a faculty reference, keep in mind that these letters may include your performance in class and lab, your interactions with peers, instructors and staff, activities outside of the classroom and personal attributes that relate to the position pursued. As such, they require substantial time and effort on the part of the Instructor to craft an excellent recommendation.

Asking for Recommendations

You want your recommenders to be able to positively highlight, with examples, your strong attributes that align well with the desired program/job. Reach out to potential faculty recommenders early and ask if they will be willing and able to write you letters. In your request, make sure to provide the following information:

  • Time Requirement – Faculty may require notice of at least several weeks before the first letter on your list is due. Make sure to request letters of recommendation early in order to give the faculty sufficient time to write a thoughtful letter.
  • Number of Letters –Faculty might also have a maximum number of letters that they are willing to send out on your behalf. Make sure that they are able to submit the number that you need.

If the faculty member has served as your course instructor, please be aware that they might have a minimum grade requirement in order to recommend you.

Ensuring a Strong Recommendation

Once the faculty member has agreed to provide a letter, arrange to meet with them to discuss your applications. Be prepared with the following information:

  • A copy of your current unofficial transcript.
  • A copy of your most recently updated resume/CV, which should include your GPA, internships and research experiences, notable extracurricular activities, etc.
  • If applicable, a copy of any personal statements that you have prepared for your applications. If this is not required for your application, write a short paragraph indicating the field of physics that you are interested in as well as your career goals. Providing this ensures that the faculty’s letter is consistent with your career goals.
  • A Google Sheet summarizing applications with columns of: a) School or Company, b) Program/Department Name and URL, c) Date Due, and d) Format required. See next section for more details.
  • If there is anything specific you want them to highlight or comment on (sometimes, it can help to comment on reasons behind a poor performance in a course or semester or behind a withdrawal).

List of Applications

At least two weeks before the first application deadline, create and share a Google Sheet with your letter writers. This sheet should include:

  • A listing of all applications in order (earliest due date to latest). Consider this list to be final. Make sure not to exceed the faculty member’s maximum letter limit.
  • Program information. Include the company/institution, program/department name, and URL
  • Under ‘Format Required’, clearly indicate which of the following should be done:
    • If the letter should be uploaded online, it is likely that the program will email the faculty member with the password information needed to upload the letter. Clearly indicate when the faculty member can expect to receive this information (it may be sent once your application is submitted, in which case you should not wait until the deadline to submit your application).
    • If the letter is uploaded directly to the program website, specify the address needed to access the form. Fill out any additional required forms, providing information for both you and the recommender, and note that you must sign the waiver (this waives your right to see the letter).
    • If a letter simply needs to be emailed to the address given, please indicate this.
    • Include hard copies of any additional required forms.
    • If a letter must be returned to you for inclusion in a single application packet, ask the faculty member to place the letter in a college envelope, seal and sign across the back flap.
  • If you want to keep tabs on your letter writers, you can also include a column for each recommender to mark in once they have submitted their letter.

Communication with Recommenders

Keep in contact with your recommenders. If you do not hear from them, a gentle reminder is often appreciated, especially if it is the day of the deadline. Finally, remember to notify your references of the outcomes of your applications. It is very exciting for them to share in your successes!

Good luck!

Adapted from “Instructions for Requesting Letters of Recommendation“, TCNJ Department of Chemistry


Physics Department
Science Complex, Room P123
The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628


Department Office