LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Most graduate schools will require at least two and probably three letters of recommendation from teachers who have taught you in college. Ask for letters from faculty members who know you well and in whose courses you did well (although these two factors do not always coincide.) Hopefully you will have consulted with these faculty members about graduate schools. Be diplomatic but frank in asking for letters. Ask them politely but more or less directly about the degree of support they can give you in a letter of reference for graduate school. If you are frank, it encourages the faculty member to be frank in return and to give you solid advice about the level of school he/she can support you for. For this kind of advice, it is best not to just walk in without an appointment. Set up an appointment with the faculty member so that you have time to explain your career goals in applying for graduate school (i.e. whether you intend eventually to teach in secondary school or college or to prepare for another specific job or profession) and whether you are planning for an M.A., Ph.D., or other degree program. You might also inform the faculty member who your other referees are--sometimes faculty confer and write stronger letters as a result.
Place the forms for the letters of reference with envelopes stamped and addressed to the graduate school in a large manila envelope (better than in folders from which papers can slip out) with your name on it, and give this package to your referees. Many schools prefer that referees return the letters to you in a sealed envelope (signed across the back) so that you can submit all the reference letters with your application. It may be to your advantage to sign the waiver on the heading of the reference form--the letter probably will have more weight if you give up your right to see it. Some graduate schools simply ask the faculty to write a letter without a reference form. For these provide just a stamped, addressed envelope. Due dates at different schools will range from January 1 to about March 1. Include a list in the large envelope with the following information about each school: whether it requires a reference form or only a letter on department stationery, whether the reference is to be mailed separately or given back to you, and the due dates for the letters. Notice that if the due dates are January 1, and the references are supposed to be given back to you, the faculty member must complete them before you go home for Christmas break. Give the faculty members writing for you all the reference forms together as described above so that materials do not become lost or separated and so there is no confusion about due dates or whether the letters are to be mailed directly or given back to you. Do all this in plenty of time before the deadlines (e.g., three or four weeks).
It is a good idea to include a self-addressed post card saying something like "Your letters were sent out on this date__________ . [Faculty Member's Name]". If the card is not returned a week before the first due date, it provides you with a good reason to contact the faculty member with a reminder that the due date is approaching.
In addition to the reference letters to individual graduate schools, give your referees the credential file form from the Career Planning Office and ask that one copy of the reference letter be filed there (not addressed to any particular school). Then it will always be available for you to send out, even if the faculty member is on sabbatical, retires, or leaves Holy Cross (or loses the letter).
It is permissible, particularly if you know the faculty member well, to write and ask for a letter of recommendation while he/she is away on leave or has left Holy Cross to teach elsewhere.
You probably should include the following items in the package of materials that you give to your referees to assist them in composing the letter:
1) Your latest college transcript. Copies can be obtained from the Registrar's office (get all the copies you need at once to save time.) The copies sent to the graduate schools must be official (stamped by the Registrar), but unofficial photocopies you make yourself are sufficient for your referees.
2) A resume of some sort
that lists everything that would be useful for the referee to know: academic
honors, special fellowships or scholarships you have won, extracurricular
activities, work and volunteer experience, tutoring experience such as in our
Composition Workshop, foreign language facility, foreign travel, artistic
accomplishments such as creative writing, visual arts, theater, musical
performance, etc. The
3) A draft or final copy of your personal statement and statement on graduate study and career plans which you are sending as part of your application (see below #7).
4) Photocopies of papers you have written in a course you had with the referee, or perhaps even papers you have written for other faculty. These papers refresh the referee's memory of the work you did for him/her and make it easier to compose a detailed letter about your writing and research ability for graduate study. Detailed letters with this kind of information carry much more weight with graduate schools than letters with few specifics.
If you decide not to apply to a certain school, or if you decide not to apply at all, inform your referees so that they don't waste time writing.
Inform your referees when your application has been sent in and be sure they hold copies of any letters they are sending directly to schools until your application is filed. If their letters get lost at the Graduate School Office of Admissions, a copy can easily be sent.
When you have heard from all schools, notify all referees of the results of your applications They are interested in you and your career plans, and it is simple courtesy to keep them informed.