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Duke GEO Article
by the Duke Global Education Office

Requesting a Recommendation

Most Duke-In and many Duke-approved study away programs require at least one letter of recommendation as part of the application process. Whom should you ask for a letter of recommendation? What's the best way to ask? This guide will walk you through the answers to those questions and more!

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Academic Recommendation vs Language Recommendation

For Duke In programs, there are two types of recommendations: academic and language. The application may require one or the other, or both. Language recommendations consist of a form that asks the faculty member to evaluate your language level, your overall academic strength, and your ability to participate on a study away program. For the academic recommendation, faculty members submit a letter that asks them to evaluate your academic qualifications and the personal maturity of this student, and whether or not you are able to take full advantage of the academic aspects of the program and can function in a generally responsible way in a foreign environment.

Whom to Ask

You should ask someone who is familiar with your academic work and has taught you in class. For Duke-In programs, this must be a Duke faculty member or graduate-level T.A. This is a useful guideline to follow for Duke-approved programs as well.

Ask a faculty member who knows you well and respects your work. It's better to ask someone who can speak highly of your qualifications, rather than perhaps a better-known faculty member who had you in a large lecture class and doesn't know you as well. It is also best practice to ask someone who has had you in class for several months. If it is your first Duke language course, and you are in need of a language recommendation within the first few weeks of the class start date, your instructor may not feel comfortable evaluating your level yet. If that is the case, contact the GEO program manager for the program you are applying to. 

We encourage all students to get to know faculty members outside of the classroom. Duke has many opportunities to do that, through your instructor's office hours, FLUNCH (Faculty+Lunch), and/or programs such as Duke Conversations, where faculty host conversational dinners at their home. 

How to Ask

For all Duke-In programs and many Duke-approved programs, your recommender will be able to complete your recommendation via an online portal. However, before entering your recommender's name and contact info in the online portal, ask them first in person or via email if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Remember that faculty members are not obligated to write you letters of recommendations. However, most will be glad to do so if you approach them respectfully, with enough time, and with the proper background information needed in order to complete the request.  

Even if you ask your recommender in person for a letter, it's good to follow up with an email. We suggest including the following in your email request:

  •  An introduction to remind the faculty member which class you had with them and when (especially if you are not currently in their class)
  •  A link to the program you are applying to
  •  A brief reason why you are applying to this program in particular and, ideally, how their course connects with the academic content of the program
  •  For academic recommendations, a copy of your resume or a list of extracurricular activities you are involved in 
  •  A clear deadline for submission
  • If they agree to write you a letter, send a follow-up with instructions on how to submit the recommendation. For Duke In programs only, you will enter their name and email address in MyGlobalEd and they will receive an email with instructions on how to submit the recommendation. If for some reason they are not able to submit via MyGlobalEd, request that they send the letter to 

When to Ask

Give your recommender plenty of advance notice, and be clear as to when the letter should be submitted. We suggest asking your instructor at least three weeks in advance of when you would like to submit your application. Remember that many Duke-In and Duke-approved programs operate on rolling admission, and your application is not considered complete until the recommendation has been received. If the program's deadline is March 1, but you plan to apply by February 1, it would be best to request your letter of recommendation no later than the first week in January. 

Follow Up

It may be a good idea to send a reminder email a week before your recommendation is due, but don't badger your recommender with multiple reminder emails. If your recommender has not submitted the letter by the agreed-upon deadline, send a polite follow-up email. It is good to acknowledge that you realize they are busy, and ask for an update on when you can expect it to be submitted. 

Say Thank You

Once your recommender has submitted your letter, send them a thank you note! This can be a handwritten letter or via email. If you are admitted to the program, please let them know. Your recommender will be delighted to hear the news. You may even consider sending them a quick note during your program with a few photos.

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