"I need a letter from the dean." This is a common statement among college and graduate students. A letter from the dean of an academic department demonstrates to a governing, scholarship or hiring board that the candidate has credible references who can vouch for performance and potential. Letters of recommendation can sway a position or opportunity in a candidate's favor, or they can ruin the chance to be competitive. Word to the wise -- use your best judgment in selecting which dean to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Overcome the first hurdle and work past the fear of asking the dean for a letter of recommendation. In most cases, as long as you are in good academic standing, many deans would gladly write a letter of recommendation as long as the request is made well in advance.

Contact the dean about writing a letter of recommendation at least one to two months before the letter is required. Remember, the dean's time is valuable and oftentimes filled with paperwork. Ask the dean when you should expect the letter of recommendation to be ready.

Provide the dean with an information sheet that explains who the letter of recommendation will be forwarded to and the reason for the letter of recommendation. In addition, give the dean at least one page of bullet points. These points should cite your academic achievements, personal traits, achievements in the community and special projects that relate to the program for which you are applying, as well as any additional information that would help the dean write a strong letter.

Give the dean any additional forms that accompany the letter of recommendation. Provide the dean with a self-addressed envelope to expedite the mailing process. Politely remind the dean of the deadline date and the requirement to complete all forms and paperwork for a complete package.