Reference and Recommendation Letters
What is the difference?
Who writes reference or recommendation letters?
The term “References” usually applies to a job
search while “Recommendations” refers to formal
letters written to support an application for graduate
school or a research position. Recommendation
letters are written by an advisor or faculty member
who is familiar with your academic work.
References and recommendations are rarely
interchangeable. Begin cultivating references while
you are a student and continue developing
professional relationships with each new work
If you have been out of college for several years and
your academic contacts are not current, consider
taking a graduate course or two as a non-degree
student. Faculty may be willing to write
recommendations for your graduate applications
based on your more recent coursework.
Tips for Faculty or Employers when Asked to
provide References or Recommendation Letters
Ask for input, including points to be emphasized in
the letter. Students ought to provide forms, a resume,
and updates on their accomplishments.
Set deadlines for requests and background
information; indicate when you will be able to
provide the letter.
Say no if you cannot or do not wish to recommend
the student to an employer or academic program.
A template for faculty to use when writing a
recommendation letter for graduate study is located
on the National Association of Colleges and
Employers (NACE) website for your use:
Tips for Students, Alumni, or Employees when making
requests for Letters of Reference or Recommendation
Be sure to ask permission to use someone as a reference
and be sure the individual has sufficient knowledge of
your knowledge, abilities, skills, or accomplishments to
write an effective letter. Former supervisors, other
managers, and possibly trusted co-workers, but not family
members or friends, may provide references.