How to ask for recommendation letters for graduate school

  • The right recommendation letter can help you secure a spot in your dream graduate program.
    The right recommendation letter can help you secure a spot in your dream graduate program.

    How to ask for recommendation letters for graduate school

    If you are in the process of applying to graduate school, you might be stumped with one component of the application: recommendations. Typically, graduate schools will request applicants to submit three recommendation letters. However, depending on what programs you’re applying to, you may need to supply them with more or less. If you haven’t needed to ask for a recommendation in a long time, you might not remember the proper protocol you used when applying for undergraduate school. Here’s our advice on whom you should ask and how you can ask for the glowing recommendations that can help you get into the graduate program of your choice:

    Whom you should ask

    Whether you’re applying for advanced programs while still enrolled in undergraduate school or applying after multiple years of work experience, there are plenty of people who could write glowing letters on your behalf. Here are some individuals you might ask for the most impactful recommendations:

    Trusted undergraduate professor

    If you’ve developed a strong rapport with one of your professors during your undergraduate education, you might benefit from asking them for a recommendation. You should ask a professor for a recommendation if:

    • You received a B or higher in their class.
    • You’ve taken more than one of their courses.
    • You’ve interacted directly with them. If they’ve only worked with you in a lecture hall setting, they may not be the best recommendation.

    Although asking a professor who teaches the subject you’d like to pursue further can be advantageous, it isn’t necessary. Even if the educator doesn’t have experience in the field you’re pursuing, they can share their knowledge of your work ethic, personal character and ambition. When a recommendation letter divulges elements of your personality, rather than just your performance in class, it can have a great impact.

    Work supervisor

    If you plan on pursuing a graduate degree while working your current job, you can ask your manager or employer for a recommendation on your behalf. This can be particularly valuable if you are pursuing an advanced degree in the field in which you are currently working. There’s a chance your employer will go above and beyond in writing your recommendation letter, as the insight you’ve gained from your graduate courses can provide value to the organization.

    Long-time family friend

    Although a recommendation from an immediate family member can have a negative impact on your graduate application, one from a friend of the family can be beneficial. When someone knows you very well, they can create a fantastic representation of your personality, goals and growth during the time they’ve known you.

    How to ask for a recommendation

    Once you’ve decided whom you’d like to ask, it’s crucial to figure out how you plan on asking them. There are plenty of factors to consider when requesting a recommendation letter for graduate school, such as:

    In-person meeting vs. email

    You might be wondering if you should request a recommendation letter in person or if you should email them. Arranging in-person meetings with your contacts is the best way to help them construct a thorough recommendation. Set some time on their calendar and come prepared with hard copies of your application materials. They might even try to complete the letter with you present so they can include all the information you’d like them to use.

    If an in-person meeting is impossible — like when your contact lives in a different state or is on sabbatical — a request over email is adequate. If you decide to email the contact, make sure you use an informative subject, such as “Recommendation for [your name]” so it can stand out among their other emails. If you’d like, you can even request to speak with them over the phone, creating a more personalized experience than email correspondence.

    Give them adequate time

    Make sure you give plenty of notice when asking for recommendations. You should try to ask between 4-6 weeks before the deadline. Not only does this give them more time to think about what they’ll say on your behalf, but it is also simply the courteous thing to do. Maybe you’ve asked a professor for a recommendation during final exam week. With the amount of grading they’ll need to do, you can’t expect a fast turnaround. When you give your contacts several weeks of notice, you’re setting yourself up to meet the deadlines while providing them with ample time to develop an excellent recommendation letter.

    Provide them with your application materials

    Even though your contact may know you very well, you should always send them your CV, personal essay, transcript and any other materials you’ve completed for your application. This information can help them create a multidimensional recommendation and might teach them something new about your accomplishments.

    Follow up

    After you’ve been accepted, or even if you were rejected, make sure you follow up with your contacts to tell them your news and thank them for their help. When they’ve taken the time to write a recommendation letter for you, they want to know whether or not their efforts paid off. Even though this isn’t a necessary step, it’s common courtesy to keep them in the loop.

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