Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are an extremely important component of the graduate school admissions process. Most programs require two letters of recommendation, with some accepting up to four. These letters should be written by faculty (preferred) or supervisors who know you very well and can provide insight on who you are as a student and as a person. Think about who to ask early in the process to provide recommenders sufficient time to write a strong letter of recommendation.

Who to ask?

  • Choose professors, mentors, or employers with whom you have a strong relationship. They should be able to attest to your academic strengths and personal qualities. If you have conducted research with a professor, it will be a red flag for an admissions office if you do not include a letter from that professor.
  • Avoid choosing a professor just because they gave you a good grade or a supervisor with a prestigious title. A strong grade or an impressive title are insufficient grounds on their own to ask for a recommendation letter. Ask the professor or supervisor who knows you very well as they can write a more convincing letter than a professor who does not know you as well.
  • If you cannot find someone to write a strong optional letter, then do not submit the extra letter. A weak letter of recommendation can hurt your chances more than not including an optional letter.

How to ask?

  • Ask to meet with your potential recommenders in person to discuss your graduate school plans. During the in person meeting, ask if they would be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation.
  • Meet with potential recommenders early in the process and give them at least a month or two to write letters - be respectful of their time. If a program deadline is in December, begin asking for letters of recommendation in September or October. Send follow-up emails to remind your recommenders of the pending deadlines for your programs.
  • Your professor may not be comfortable with writing a recommendation letter. Give them the option to say no. A weak recommendation will not help your application. Ensure that you have several people to ask for letters of recommendation if one of them cannot write a letter for you.

What to provide?

  • Prepare a packet of information to help them write a strong personal letter. This should include your transcripts, a resume/CV, a draft of your personal statement, and a list of programs that you are applying to with short program descriptions and application deadlines - and your application timeline. If you want the letter writer to disclose certain grades, include a FERPA release. Ask if they would like any additional information.
  • Thank your recommenders. Let them know if you decide not to apply to a particular program. When you make your final decision, update them on your acceptances and final program selection.