Letter of Recommendation and References

Letters of recommendation and references fulfill a similar function: someone who knows you well can speak to your skills and experiences to potential employers on your behalf. So, what's the difference? 

Letters of Recommendation

  • Letters of recommendation are usually required when applying for internships or graduate schools.
  • Strong letters should be written by people who know you and your capabilities well, such as professors, advisors, staff, or supervisors. Relatives are not recommended.
  • Give writers enough time (at least a few months) to write the letter.
  • Provide your letter writer with a copy of your resume or past work from their class. Knowing what you have done and what type of position you are interested in allows them to include details that will help you to achieve those goals. Also, let them know how to submit the letter.
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Worksheet: Letter of Recommendation Reflection Guide for Graduate School
(link to create a copy of Google Doc)
  • Letters are typically confidential (you don't see the final version). Letter writers are typically expected to submit the letter on your behalf directly to the internship or graduate school you are applying to.
  • Once you receive your letters, send writers thank you notes!
  • Tell your writers about your subsequent success and how they helped you to attain your goal.
  • If you are not applying for programs while you are still at UCSC, you may utilize Interfolio to store your letters for use at a later time. 


  • References are usually required when applying for jobs.
  • Give employer references only if you are instructed to do so. Otherwise, bring a hard copy to the interview. 
  • References are typically submitted to employers as a list of 2-3 people with whom you have had professional and/or academic relationships which can attest to your skills, experiences, and work ethic.
  • Avoid asking relatives and friends to be your professional references. 
  • For each reference provide their name, job title, email, phone number, and your relationship.
  • Notify all your references that you will use their information and the position that you're applying for.
  • Helpful information to forward to your references: recent resume, quality papers, projects, or responsibilities in which you excelled. 
  • Tell your references about your subsequent success and how they helped you to attain your goal.