When should I approach letter writers? What if I plan to take some time off before I go to graduate school? Professors and supervisors are generally pleased to write on your behalf; however, they are usually involved in many activities. Faculty are especially busy during the months of November and December. Be considerate of your letter writers’ time and approach them at least two months before you need the letter. If you plan to take some time off before going to graduate school, don’t wait until you want to apply to graduate school to ask for letters. Your professors could be on sabbatical, or you may not be fresh in their minds anymore. So, ask professors for a "general" letter of recommendation before you leave Cal and place their letters in a safe place, like the Career Center’s Letter Service. When you are ready to apply to graduate school, contact professors again, and ask them to update your letters.
How do I approach potential letter writers? First, make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then, set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email. Be prepared to articulate your interest and reasons for attending graduate school. Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis. The best approach is to ask potential letter writers if they are willing to write you a strong letter. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.