5 tips for gathering references for graduate school applications

  • You should have good relationships with your references. 2. Always ask for permissionAccording to The Muse, the biggest mistake that someone can make is not asking people for permission to use them as a reference. First, asking is considerate of your reference's time, and second, if a reference is called by a school and is unprepared, their lack of insight or generic response can work against you in your application. The Muse recommends asking your potential references for permission to list their names in person if possible, but if not, by phone, followed by email as a last resort. "Provide information about the graduate program or programs to which you are applying."
    You should have good relationships with your references. 2. Always ask for permissionAccording to The Muse, the biggest mistake that someone can make is not asking people for permission to use them as a reference. First, asking is considerate of your reference's time, and second, if a reference is called by a school and is unprepared, their lack of insight or generic response can work against you in your application. The Muse recommends asking your potential references for permission to list their names in person if possible, but if not, by phone, followed by email as a last resort. "Provide information about the graduate program or programs to which you are applying."

    5 tips for gathering references for graduate school applications

    Many graduate school applications require that you submit a references list or letters of recommendation. Having academic or professional contacts who can vouch for your talents and work ethic is an important part of positioning yourself as an ideal candidate for your graduate school of choice. 

    However, many students have blundered when it comes to gathering their references. For smooth sailing – and to help ensure that your former professors or supervisors are putting their best words forward about you – follow these five tips:

    1. Choose your references based on your relationship with them 
    The references in your graduate school application should be individuals who are very familiar with you as a student. Professors that you had little interaction with will probably not be able to say more than generic praise – if anything at all – about your abilities as a student and learner. If you're worried that you may not have enough professors as you'd like to provide you with references, consider your advisor or faculty leaders of any academic clubs or programs in which you were involved. While academic references are ideal, supervisors from past jobs, volunteer programs and internships can also be good references, while providing admissions officials with a well-rounded view of you as both a student and an individual. 

    3. Provide ample information about the program to which you are applying 
    When asking your potential references for their permission, be sure to provide information about the graduate program or programs to which you are applying. This information is valuable as it will help guide the reviews they give admissions officers as well as their letters of recommendation. The Harvard Business Review recommends that job seekers tell references details about the position to which they are applying and why they think they would be a good fit, and the same advice is relevant for those applying to graduate school. Share with your references what appeals to you about the program, what skills, passions and experience you have to make you a strong candidate and what qualities you possess that will help you stand out from the competition. 

    4. Give them plenty of time to write letters of recommendation 
    You wouldn't want your references to feel forced to quickly scribble a few words about you off the top of their head, so make sure you give them plenty of time to write letters of recommendation. Two weeks is, at minimum, the time frame you should give, according to the University at Albany, but having an even longer period is ideal. 

    5. Say 'thanks'
    Another major references faux pas? Not saying "thanks." Your references are taking time out of their busy schedules, and you should be sure to show appreciation for that. After they agree to be your reference, send them a handwritten thank-you note. And when you find out the result of your application, be sure to share it with your references. If you didn't get into your school of choice, you can let them know of your future plans and thank them for their time. And if you did get in, you can share the celebratory news and thank them for their help in achieving your goals. 

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