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Letters of Recommendation

If you are planning on applying to graduate school, you should also be planning on requesting letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs require at least two letters of recommendation. Important pieces of your application include transcripts, standardized test scores, and a personal statement/essay, in addition to a glowing letter of recommendation. The letter of recommendation can give admission committees a picture of you that the other pieces of your application cannot.

Definition of a recommendation letter--A detailed discussion, from a faculty member, of the personal qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that make you unique and suited for the program to which you have applied.

Typically, one or more of the people in your network and/or your mentors will write your recommendation. It is important to be consistent in communication with them about goals and needs. The more familiar they are with these the better the recommendation they can write. It is important to get your request in for a recommendation early, as it takes a significant amount of time and, often, yours is not the only recommendation they are writing, and they are all usually needed around the same time.

Who should you ask?

Consider professional people who know you best: faculty members, administrators, advisors, internship supervisors, and employers. The person who writes your letter should:
  • know you for a significant amount of time (at least one year)
  • know the quality of your work
  • have a high opinion of you, both personally and professionally
  • describe your work and character in a positive light
  • know your educational and career goals
  • have the ability to write a well-written letter

How to request a letter:

When you approach a potential letter-writer, it is best to set up an appointment to meet with them. First, ask if they feel that they know you well enough to write a letter of recommendation for you. Pay attention to their reaction. If you sense any hesitation, thank them and ask someone else. Remember the earlier you ask, the better. The closer it is to the end of the semester, the more hesitant a faculty member may become due to time restraints and work load.

Help by providing information:

The person writing your letter can compose a fuller picture of you if you provide the necessary information. Don't assume that they will remember everything about you! Give your letter-writers plenty of time and background information. You may want to request a letter at least 8 weeks prior to the application deadline.

Helpful hints

  • A cover note that includes your contact information
  • Transcripts
  • Resume
  • Admissions essay/personal statement
  • Copies of graded papers/assignments from the course you took with them
  • A list of schools to which you are applying, due dates for each application with the earliest due date listed first
  • Copy of the application recommendation forms
  • An addressed and stamped envelope (if the letter needs to be mailed separately)
As the application deadline approaches, check back with your letter-writer to follow-up with them that the letters were sent on time. Contact the graduate program to inquire whether your materials were received.

Once you have confirmed that the letters have arrived, be sure to thank those who wrote the letters. Always send a thank you note to each person who contributed a recommendation letter.                                          
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