Whether seeking a job or applying to graduate school, you probably will need to ask a faculty member for a letter of recommendation. The history department faculty can be most helpful to you and write letters that are most effective if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Get to know faculty members before you need a recommendation.
Talk with instructors after class, during office hours or at department social functions. Invite a professor to lunch (Wheaton’s “Dine with a Mind” will pick up the tab). Be an active, engaged participant in classes, so that professors remember your interest.
Request the letter at least two weeks in advance of the postal or e-mail deadline, more if the time frame includes holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.
If you make your request well in advance of the deadline and receive no confirmation of the recommendation, send a follow-up e-mail two weeks in advance, reminding the faculty member of your request.
If you are applying to several graduate schools, try to make all your recommendation requests at one time.
Include a list of the various schools to which you are applying, the specific program at each school, and the deadline.
Provide the professor with the background materials to write a strong recommendation.
Prepare a folder containing the following: a copy of your academic transcript; a draft of your graduate school application essay or a statement of your career goals; a sample of relevant academic work; and a reminder of contributions you made in the professor’s class (“I presented the group report analyzing the historical accuracy of the film, The Mission.”) You might also include a brief summary of pertinent extracurricular activities and work experience: teaching assistantships; campus leadership positions; internships; study abroad; mission trips; summer jobs, etc. This material should be brief, but precise and to the point. You want the professor to be able to make a specific argument that you are an outstanding applicant for graduate work or the job.
If you are contacting a professor after you have graduated, provide an update on your experiences and accomplishments since college.