How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

There is an appropriate etiquette for requesting a letter of evaluation. In the past we have recommended that applicants always make the request in person unless some very unusual circumstance prevents it (e.g., either you or the professor is out of the country). However, you may find that a professor who knows you and who communicates routinely with students by email would not mind a request by email. Send an official request via AdviseStream. (Please AdviseStream to learn how.) This also allows the HPA office to gain access to your letters to compile your letter packet.

For those evaluators not associated with Duke University, you may want to provide a stamped envelope addressed to the HPA. Some faculty will ask you to submit a statement about your interests or a resume of extracurricular activities. Others will ask you to come in for a short conversation during which you can discuss what type of evaluation you are requesting. Occasionally a faculty member shows sincere hesitation about writing a letter and that is usually because he/she thinks he/she cannot write a strongly positive one. In that case you should find someone else.

"I haven’t gotten to know my instructors well enough to ask them for letters"

Students often state that they have had no opportunity to get to know their professors because they have been enrolled in large lecture courses. This may or may not be a valid excuse. Tutorials, seminars, and independent study courses are open to all students. Numerous student groups sponsor faculty-student lunches; the Faculty Associates program offers opportunities to enhance student-faculty interaction. Finally, there is no prohibition against students asking their current or past professors to lunch or coffee or a group social activity. Be one of those students who takes the time to engage in intellectual and memorable discussions with his/her professors. Make a resolution that you will come to know one or two of your instructors in this semester or the next better than others you know right now. Make room in your schedule for a seminar or independent study next term. Letters written with personal knowledge of you will strengthen your “File of Evaluations”. But more importantly, your undergraduate experience will be enriched.