Categorized | Grad School

Graduate School Letters of Recommendation – Recommendation Letter

Posted on 13 June 2009

Letters of recommendation are essential to your success.

Most graduate programs–and many job opportunities–require letters of recommendation. Think it’s easy to get them? Don’t underestimate their importance. Even though your transcripts, test scores, and personal pleas are vital to getting into the top school or company, a glowing letter of recommendation can make up for years of below-par performance.

A recommendation provides information that isn’t found elsewhere on some gargantuan application. The best letters, written by a faculty member or one of your former superiors, attest to the personal qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that make you perfect for the program or job to which you’ve applied.

You may have to provide at least two letters of recommendation, but some places have been known to ask for three or more.

Who to Ask?

You may have to provide at least two letters of recommendation, but some places have been known to ask for three or more. Choosing your letter writers is often a difficult process. Consider faculty members, administrators, internship supervisors, and current and former employers. Those asked to write your letters should…

  • Know you well enough to write with authority
  • Know your work
  • Describe your work positively
  • Have a high opinion of you
  • Know where you are applying
  • Know your educational or career goals
  • Be able to favorably compare you with your peers
  • Be able to write a good letter

Of course, no one person is going to satisfy all of these criteria. Go for a set of letters that cover the wide range of your academic and scholastic skills, research abilities and experiences, and applied experiences (cooperative education, internships, and related work experiences).

Approaching Your Victim

When you approach people to write a letter of recommendation, ask them if they think they know you well enough to write something meaningful. Pay attention to their demeanor and body language. If you sense reluctance, don’t press the issue–ask someone else.

Provide Information

You can ensure your letters cover all bases by providing writers with all the necessary information. Don’t assume that they will remember every last thing about you. Make an appointment to speak with them and leave plenty of time to complete the assignment–three to four weeks at minimum. You might want to provide a file with your vital stats, including…

  • Transcript or resume
  • Admissions essays
  • Coursework or classes you’ve taken with them
  • Research experiences
  • Internships and other applied experiences
  • Honor societies to which you belong
  • Awards you’ve won
  • Work experience
  • Professional goals
  • Due date for the application
  • Clean copies of the recommendation forms

And check back frequently with the people who are writing your letters of recommendation. Make sure that they will be done on time, but don’t nag them about it. If you learn one thing from this process, it’s to never burn your bridges!

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Lynn M says:

    Good advice! Also, if you think ahead and develop good relationships with professors you won’t have to think of them so much as a “victim” when you ask for a letter of recommendation. You’ll feel comfortable and so will they. Networking is important in through out college and when looking for a job!

  2. Ronald J says:

    Excellent advice. It always seems to keep things moving when you take the approach of a project with specific goals and timelines. The section “Provide Information” is a brilliant idea. It would also be prudent to have a list of similar items kept up to date even after you get hired. It would make preparation for your job review much easier. May I suggest you take a look at some relevant information on similar topics at this location:

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