What happens to early letters of recommendation?
December 15, 2009 11:05 AM   Subscribe

What do I do with a letter of recommendation that I won't need for another 3 semesters?

I feel like this may be a stupid question. It's one of those situations that seems like it should have a simple and obvious solution.

I'm taking my final exam tonight in a class I've enjoyed, and plan on asking the professor for a letter of rec, since he's closely involved with the graduate program I want to apply to. I'm not going to be applying for at least a year, but since he has my coursework fresh in his mind I'd like to ask for the letter now. What do I do with it until then, and will it matter if it's dated? Will it just go straight to my academic file/transcript? I literally have no experience asking for letters so I'm not familiar with the process. I'm also highly disorganized, and I'm worried that I might lose it if I'm meant to hang onto it.

Have you asked for letters of rec in advance? If so, tell me what you did, without making me feel too much like a naive fool. Thanks!
posted by a.steele to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't ask for one now. You can tell him instead that you would like to ask for a letter of recommendation in a year. He might decide to make some notes of things he will put in the letter a year later. Much can change in a year—there may be new information to include in the letter then, or you may decide not to apply to the program at all.
posted by grouse at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: Ask the professor now if he'd be willing to write you a letter when you apply to grad school next year. Then wait. Make it a point to swing by his office a few times over the next year and chat for a few minutes so he doesn't forget who you are. If you can, take another one of his classes. A few months before the letter is due ask him again (preferably in person) to write you a letter. It's nice if you talk with him or give him a cheat sheet about your academic history, goals, hobbies, etc. so he has lots to write about in the letter. If you ask him to write it this far in advance he's probably going to forget, and if you spend the next year building up that relationship with him your letter will be much better since it will have a personal touch.

I started worrying about letters of rec my junior year and ended up in your same position. Instead of trying to lock in a good letter of recommendation right now, focus on cultivating/maintaining a good relationship with your professors next year. Go to office hours, participate in class, spend extra time on the assignments, etc. When I made the rounds asking for letters of rec this semester, I didn't ask any of the professors I would have if I'd done it my junior year.

(Obviously, my advice only flies if you're going to be in school next year. If you're graduating and taking a year off you'll need to take a different angle.)
posted by lilac girl at 11:26 AM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are definitely right in wanting to ask the professor for a recommendation while his or her memory of your aptitude is still fresh in mind, but the prof shouldn't give you a rec letter until you apply. Grouse's advice is great. Just tell the prof your intentions and it'll be up to him or her what to do with the information.
posted by painquale at 11:30 AM on December 15, 2009

When I applied to grad school, my profs sent my rec letters directly to the schools -- I didn't see them at all. I thought this was the norm.

BTW, I applied to grad school seven years after I graduated from college. My profs all remembered me, no problem.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:16 PM on December 15, 2009

I had a professor who recommended that we ask for letters of recommendation during/right after the coursework with that professor because of the reasons above. I asked this professor for a letter at the end of my senior year of undergrad (I had taken two semesters with him) and he was happy to write it. I am pretty sure that he just kept it on his computer, and when it came time to submit it he added the date and the schools and those other things. I felt good knowing that it wasn't going to be some vague description of any student but actually reflect me and what I did in his classes. Good luck!
posted by iliketolaughalot at 6:22 AM on December 16, 2009

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