Letters of Recommendation

As faculty in the Department of Anthropology, we often get requests from students to write letters of recommendation. Before you request letters from anthropology faculty, please review the information below first and follow the guidelines specified later. This information, and accompanying guidelines, are intended to ensure that good letters of recommendation are submitted in a timely fashion. At the bottom of this page are some links that students seeking letters of recommendation may find useful.

Essentials of a good recommendation letter

A good letter is important as a potential gateway to graduate schools, fellowships and jobs. However, good letters are built on: (1) the foundation that students create for themselves (e.g., strong work ethic, talent and motivation); and (2) the relationship that students have with the letter writer. It is critical to cultivate relationships with individuals who can advocate for you or know you well enough to convey a strong sense of who you are. If you have not done so, you need to do the work to foster those relationships. Building such relationships takes time. Start early in your college career by meeting with faculty during their office hours to discuss class material or topics that interest you or by volunteering to do research with a professor.

Which faculty member(s) to ask

The most effective letters offer details about YOU and who you are as a student, researcher, etc. Therefore, you want a letter from a professor who knows you well. In short, good letters are valuable, but letters that are less strong, weak or negative will only hinder your application. Therefore, it is important that you reflect on your experiences and performance in our classes and your interactions with faculty before you ask for letters of recommendation. When you ask a professor for a letter, it is acceptable (and in fact, likely preferred) that you ask, “Would it be possible for you to write me a strong letter of recommendation?”

When to approach a faculty member

You need to plan to provide all materials and information to your letter writer(s) 5-6 weeks before the earliest application deadline. This means you need to approach potential letter writers at least two months before your earliest application deadline. That way, if a person you ask to write a letter declines, you have time to approach other potential letter writers. Like you, faculty value their time off. Therefore, you should account for breaks, such as Thanksgiving and winter intersession, when calculating the appropriate time to approach faculty about writing a letter. If a letter is due Jan. 31, you need to provide the following information (see below) to your letter writer(s) by early December, at the latest, in order to account for the winter intersession break. This means you will need to approach faculty by the middle of the fall semester, at the latest, to see who will be willing to write a letter on your behalf, so plan ahead. Never list a person as someone who can provide a recommendation if you have not asked the person first!

Materials, information to provide and other to-do's

Please provide all the following materials and information, keeping in mind that individual faculty may request additional materials:

  • A description of what you did in our classes or research lab that we might talk about in a letter for you. That is, if there are particular assignments, projects or activities that you would like us to emphasize, let us know. A brief summary should suffice.
  • A brief account of why the program, fellowship or job interests you, and why you are a strong candidate for it.
  • Resume or curriculum vita
  • Statement of purpose or essay that you are submitting to the program/school or the job description
  • Clear instructions for each submitting letter, including:
    • A list of deadlines for letters of recommendation. This may be the same as or different from the application deadline.
    • The name of the specific program, fellowship or job, and the address, including the name of the individual to whom the letter should be addressed.
    • The type of submission, for example email, online, U.S. Postal Service.
    • For graduate programs, include a list of the professors who you are interested in working with along with a description of the program.

In short, you need to provide your letter writer(s) with all relevant forms, accompanying instructions, and stamped envelopes addressed to the program/fellowship/job for letters submitted via U.S. Postal Service or email addresses for email submissions. Students often find it helpful to stay organized using an Excel worksheet. Each row can be one program you are applying to, and then there can be columns with instructions, how to submit, who to submit to, deadline, etc. You can then just send that worksheet to each professor in advance of the first deadline.

For all recommendation forms (online and paper versions), the name, affiliation and contact information of your letter writer needs to be completed by you before you pass on the forms to the letter writer.

Contact information is listed on the anthropology office hours webpage. You may use the following template:

Name: [insert name of faculty], Ph.D.
Title: [insert Assistant/Associate/Full] Professor
Address: Department of Anthropology
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Phone: [insert phone]
Email: [insert email address]

Professors will most likely submit your letters on time (though, perhaps "just" on time). Still, it is acceptable (and sometimes preferred) to send a polite reminder no more than a week before the due date if you know the letter has not yet been submitted.

Useful Links

SSU Career Services provides information useful to students applying to graduate school or entering the job market, including:

  • How to ask for a letter of recommendation
  • How to write a resume or curriculum vitae
  • How to write a cover letter

Additional websites offering information specifically about requesting letters of recommendation:

These guidelines were adapted from the West Chester University Psychology Department webpage.