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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
February 1, 2015
Canadian Excellence

Student Guidelines for Seeking Academic References

Carefully read the instructions for the position or program for which you’re seeking a reference, paying close attention to the due dates and application requirements.

Approach the faculty member to ask for a reference at least six weeks before the reference is due.

1) Ask if the faculty member is willing to write you a reference. Whenever possible, you should request a letter in person, by visiting the faculty member during her or his office hours. You should only approach a faculty member that will likely provide you with a good letter. If you preformed poorly in the class or were consistently late submitting assignments, the faculty member will be unlikely to provide you with a good letter of reference.

Some tips for choosing a referee:

-As a general rule, the longer you know a faculty member the more weight her or his letter of reference will bear. Choose a referee who knows your work well.

-If possible, approach a faculty member who teaches in the same general area of the program to which you’re seeking admission. For example, if you’re a double-major in Sociology and Psychology and you’re applying to an MA program in Sociology, at least one of your references should come from a member of the Sociology faculty.

2) If the faculty member agrees to write the reference, offer to provide specific materials to assist her or him in writing the letter. You should be prepared to supply the following:

-A copy of the reference form (if applicable)

-A description of the program or position to which you’re applying 

-A copy of a graded assignment you completed in the professor’s course

-Your proposed plan of study (if part of the application process)

-The date the reference material is due and whether the letter is to be mailed directly or submitted along with your own application materials

-An addressed, stamped envelope to mail the reference letter (if applicable)

Ask the faculty member if she or he would like any additional information or documents (transcripts, a copy of your resume, etc.). The more detail you can provide your referee, the more likely she or he will be able to tailor your reference letter to the program or position you’re applying.

3) Send a brief e-mail to your referee gently reminding her or him about your letter of reference one week before it’s due.

4) After you submit your application, send a short note of thanks via e-mail to the faculty member. And, if you’re successfully admitted to the program, send a note to inform your referee. Faculty members enjoy learning about their students’ successes.

Good luck!