Six weeks before the deadline, if possible:

  • Have conversations with mentors and potential recommenders about the opportunities you are considering. Are they familiar with these? Are they generally supportive?
  • If they seem supportive, you can ask them if they would in principle be willing to write for you.
    • Be sure to explain why you think they would be in a good position to write for you.
    • Ask them how much lead time they generally want for a letter.

Four weeks before the deadline (or sooner, depending on the first conversation), follow up with specifics:

  • Ask whether they think they could write you a strong letter for the specific award by the specific deadline.
  • Provide your recommender with the materials they need to write a strong letter. It is always a good idea to share:
    • Information about the thing you are applying for, including
      • A summary of the award purpose and a link to the website
      • The deadline for the letter and any content or formatting requirements (letterhead, length, etc.)
      • Information about how to submit it
      • A copy of your updated resume/CV and drafts of your essay(s)
      • A list of 3 things you would like them to include or focus on in their letter (qualities, accomplishments, skills, experiences that show your potential to succeed in the thing you are applying for)
    • Contacts ( and someone at the award organization) in case they need support

Two weeks before the deadline, check in to be sure they have everything they need.

The week of the deadline, update them on your own progress and thank them for their support:

  • As soon as you know they have submitted the recommendation, thank them again for their support.

Keep in touch with them!

  • At the latest, update them (and thank them for their support) when you learn the results of the competition.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you ask in a way that allows someone to gracefully decline, you can trust that they will write the strongest letter they can.
  • With the materials listed above, it can be easier to revise an existing letter than to write a new one. Don't be shy about asking a key mentor for multiple letters.
  • Be sure that you can articulate why you want a letter from this particular person. Do they know you well? Are they the least intimidating professor you've had? Are they qualified to judge your potential for success? Are they famous in their field? Not all reasons lead to equally strong letters.