References and Recommendations

What Is a Reference?

A reference is a person who will give a strong positive statement about you and your work-related qualities and experience. This statement is usually shared via email or phone. 

student meeting with Hiatt counselor

You will most likely be asked for a list of references when you are being considered for a job, internship, or volunteer position. You will want to choose people who will speak highly of your skills, strengths, work ethic, classroom performance, team work, leadership skills, etc. Each reference listing should contain:

Be sure that your reference list is proofread and error-free, including correct spelling of names, appropriate titles and accurate contact information. Usually, you are asked to send a list via email. If you provide a hard copy, use quality paper.

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a written statement supporting your application. Letters of recommendation are often required when you apply to graduate schoolfunding programs such as Hiatt’s World of Work, and other fellowships such as the Davis or Fulbright. These programs want to learn from people who know you well and can judge how you may perform within the context of the particular program for which you are applying.

Many programs that require a letter of recommendation will provide you a form that will include a confidentiality waiver. Although you are not required to waive your right to read the letter, most selection committees believe that the assessment is more reliable if the writer can be confident that the subject (you) does not have access to their comments.

It is best for letters to be written shortly before they are submitted. If you believe that you will not have access to a writer when you are ready to apply, consider storing their letter online through Interfolio. Some graduate school applications, such as for law school or a masters in public health, have a centralized application process, requiring an account through which all elements of your application, including the letter of recommendation, will be submitted. If you will be applying within five years, you can create the account and store the letter there instead of paying an additional fee to Interfolio.

Choosing an Advocate

When deciding whom to ask for a reference or recommendation, think about: 

student and supervisor talking at work

Good reference and recommendation sources include people who have a favorable impression of you in the workplace, classroom or on campus. Examples include:

Friends and relatives who may be biased toward your abilities traditionally are not the best choices, as they may be perceived by a program or employer as lacking objectivity.

What if you are asked to provide more references than people who come to mind?

The Ask

Do not simply drop off a reference form in a professor’s box or send them a casual email. Ask to set up a time to speak about whether they would be willing to be a reference or write a letter for you. 

Be considerate: give someone at least one week's notice to serve as a reference and two months to prepare a letter of recommendation.

The following information is often helpful to people who act as a reference or letter writer:

Be sure to: