There’s a lot of good advice around here – not to toot our own horns, it’s the truth! Here’s my own two cents on recommendation letters. Sometimes it’s really difficult to know who to ask, and how. If you’ve done a special research project with a faculty member, that’s a great place to start. If you haven’t, it’s not too late! Have you written a paper you are especially proud of? Use that as an “in” to get to know a professor. It can be tough approaching professors for favors like these, and that’s why it’s important to develop a good rapport with your letter writers beforehand. And above all, put yourself in their shoes. Does the person know enough about you to write a good letter? If you have doubts, it’s time to put some face time in.
I had some trouble thinking of who to ask for letters when I applied to graduate school. One reason for this is that I took two years off between undergrad and grad school. If you are thinking about taking time off, try to find ways to maintain contact with those undergrad professors who will be writing your letters in the future. Even one or two emails – maybe seeking advice on your grad school search – are a better prelude than emailing someone out of the blue and requesting a letter. Another tip for those taking time off: use your time wisely. Grad schools want to see that you are making progress, even outside of school, and contacts made in the interim can also write those letters for you. I chose to volunteer for an anti-looting organization during my time off. This gave me valuable experience and an additional letter of recommendation. Even a little volunteering over a summer or winter break can broaden your horizons (please excuse the cliche) and produce a great letter from a new perspective.