Most grad schools ask for letters of recommendation in their application package. Who you select for your letters of recommendation and how you ask them will have a significant impact on the quality of the recommendations. Since all recommendations submitted by applicants will be positive, this is especially critical in making your letters of recommendation standout.
Who to Select
Most grad schools want two to three letters of recommendation, which can usually be academic or professional.
You obviously want to select people who will have positive things to say about you, but also people who know your strengths really well. For example, if you want the letter of recommendation to emphasize your research skills, then you need to ask an individual who can talk about this aspect of you.
Some grad schools may request that one or more letters of recommendation be from college professors. If this is the case, it is important to remember that the professor that gives you the highest marks isn't always the professor that knows you the best. You may also want to consider selecting a professor who specializes in the same area as you are interested in studying.
How to Ask
Once you've decided which individuals you would like to ask for letters of recommendation, you need to approach them. When you approach them with this request, you should first ask if they would be comfortable in providing you with a glowing recommendation. If they hesitate, then you can politely let them know that you can ask another individual. It's always better to get a positive recommendation from an advocate then a lukewarm letter from your first choice!
Once an individual has agreed to provide you with a positive letter of recommendation, you need to give them ample time to prepare the letter. Two to three weeks notice to write a letter of recommendation is reasonable. That means you need to be asking for letters of recommendation well ahead of the application deadline for the grad schools you are applying to. It's also helpful to have ready a list of the grad schools and application deadlines to give to the those who will be preparing the letters of recommendation.
Let your recommenders know if the grad school needs them to use a specific form for the letter of recommendation, and that you will get that for them with your name already filled in. Also let them know that you will provide them with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes for them to use to send the letters of recommendation to the grad schools.
What They Should Say
It's helpful to let each individual know what you would like the letter to emphasize. To help them, provide your recommenders with a copy of your personal essay and resume for their reference.
Let them know who else you have preparing a letter of recommendation and what those recommenders are writing about. Each of your letters of recommendation should be complimentary, not repetitive.
You need to make sure that your letters of recommendation will cover a range of strengths, both personally and academically. The letters need to highlight your contributions in the classroom, at the school, in the community and in the workplace if applicable. It should describe the type of person you are and what others think of you including your classmates, professors and co-workers.
Letters of recommendation need to talk about your strengths in detail, not merely list them. For example, the letter shouldn't simply state that you are a good leader, but give examples and anecdotes of your leadership. Where possible, your strengths should be ranked or rated with descriptors such as "she consistently ranks in the top 10% of her class".
Finally, the letter should enthusiastically recommend that you be accepted to the grad school. That's the point of having the letter done, but it's not always clearly stated in letters of recommendation.
Matching School Ads
University of Phoenix
At University of Phoenix, we believe everyone deserves access to higher education.