A Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School is a document written by your undergraduate professor, supervisor, mentor, manager, etc., that highlights your academic performance, personal qualities, capabilities, and accomplishments that make you a good fit for a particular graduate program.
Letters of recommendation for graduate school primarily serve one purpose- they are a form of peer-to-peer advice. These letters are required explicitly by an academic program, and they are usually sent directly to the graduate program faculty without the applicant seeing it. This means that the professor can provide the graduate program faculty an assessment of your potential as a graduate student and a researcher from an objective perspective, helping them make an informed decision about accepting you into their program over the other qualified applicants.
Strong letters of recommendation for a graduate school play a significant role in helping you secure an admission offer. If you have any weak areas in your application, for example, a slightly below-average GPA, a positive and detailed letter of recommendation from your undergraduate supervisor can influence the admission committee to consider you over other applicants. This is why it is significant to understand how to secure strong and impressive letters of recommendation from competent recommenders.
When to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
Undergraduate professors and other professionals usually receive countless requests for letters of recommendation from other students. To secure an enthusiastic and positive letter of recommendation for graduate school, you should give your contact plenty of lead time to write the letter. Ideally, it is a great idea to ask for a letter of recommendation at least one month or more before the application deadline.
If your recommender is a college professor, you should also be mindful of their schedule and current state of mind. Crafting recommendation letters takes time. Balancing between planning lectures, advising students, grading college essays, and finding some free time to provide a positive recommendation letter for a particular student can be overwhelming for the professor. Therefore, you should ask for a recommendation letter at the beginning of the semester, rather than mid-semester or towards the end of the semester.
You should also consider asking for a recommendation letter during your professor’s working hours. You should never ask them outside of their office hours, as this may seem unprofessional. You should always ask them in person and be clear about what you ask and how the letter fits your educational and professional goals. If they seem reluctant to write you a positive recommendation letter, do not push the matter. Instead, consider requesting another professor who is more than willing to write a positive recommendation for you.
Who to Ask?
Getting the right professor, supervisor, or college advisor to offer you a recommendation letter can be difficult. Because recommendation letters for a graduate school play a significant role in helping you get an admission offer. You should consider choosing a recommender who can discuss your abilities, competencies, and personal traits in a coherent way to maximize your admission odds.
The following guidelines will help you know whom to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school:
Someone who knows you well
Your recommender should be someone you have spent time with within class and outside of the classroom. He/she should be able to speak about your career goals and aspirations and should hold a favorable opinion of your personal qualities and capabilities. For example, a professor who directs and advises your extracurricular activity club, such as the debate club, volleyball team, etc., can make an excellent reference.
Someone you’ve known for a long time
Reach out to a recommender who has known you for at least one or more years to ensure that the recommendation letter impacts the admission board. The recommender must also hold a current perspective on you. Thus a teacher from several years ago is not a good choice.
Who is related to the program you are applying for
A college professor who has a background knowledge of the discipline or program you want to pursue can make a good reference. This is because they know and can speak to the specific qualities needed to succeed in that course or career line. As a result, the admission board will trust the individual’s evaluation and perspective of you, and they would be more willing to admit you into the program.
A professor at the school granting your undergraduate degree, a professor with the degree you are seeking, a supervisor at a job or internship related to your graduate program, and a professor who has academically evaluated you in a class related to the program can provide good recommendation letters.
Who has witnessed your accomplishments
A person who has witnessed some of your most significant achievements or seen you demonstrate high levels of initiative, commitment, hard work, and teamwork can also provide an effective letter of recommendation for your graduate school. Excellent letters of recommendation often include specific examples of achievements. A person who has witnessed your accomplishments can give a first-hand account of what you can do and the value you will add to the graduate program faculty.
An effective communicator
Your recommender should be able to craft a strongly-worded and persuasive letter of recommendation for graduate school to convince the admission’s board or committee to offer you admission into the desired program. A well-crafted, enthusiastic letter of recommendation from a college professor may not only get you into a graduate program but may also persuade the department faculty to give you a tuition scholarship or paid employment to help you settle your school fees. Hence you should always consider recommenders that are more generous, organized, enthusiastic, and those that can write memorable letters of recommendation.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
While as an applicant, you cannot control what your recommender writes in the letter of recommendation for graduate school or ensure the document is submitted before the application deadline, there are certain things you can do to make the process as successful and efficient as possible. How you ask for the letter of recommendation can also impact the quality and type of response you receive from your potential references.
Here is a detailed guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school:
Ask in person
Writing a letter of recommendation is a big favor. Therefore you should always approach asking from a respectful, formal, and grateful place. Asking for such requests in person is usually advocated for as it helps the recommender to gain a deeper understanding of how your motivation aligns with that of the graduate program. Here are some useful tips for asking for a recommendation in person:
Ask the recommender if they would provide the letter
It is considered standard practice to have a conversation before you tender your written request for a recommendation. This is to ensure that your chosen contact is willing and available to write the recommendation letter. Thus, schedule a meeting with your chosen contact and politely ask them if they would be willing to write a strong recommendation letter for you. If they are unwilling or seem reluctant, consider asking another person from your list of potential recommenders.
Arrange a meeting
If the recommender is willing to provide you with a strong recommendation, schedule a one-on-one meeting appointment. This demonstrates that you respect your professor’s time and that you are taking your graduate school application seriously. During the meeting, clarify to your supervisor why you chose them to recommend you and why you value their honest assessment of your academic life and personal qualities. To convince them further, state how your experience and interactions with them have contributed to who you are today, what you have achieved, and, if applicable, how they have influenced your decision to pursue the specific graduate program.
Give a copy of your resume, transcripts, and personal statement
You should provide your recommender with sufficient details and crucial information to enable them to tailor the recommendation letter to reinforce your cover letter, personal statement, and resume. Consider giving them a copy of your current resume, copies of your transcripts, your covering letter, personal statement, details of the program in which applying, and any other essential information to help them understand your background and interests.
Provide a list of your achievements and abilities
Next, refresh the memory of your recommender by providing them with a list of achievements and abilities that you would like them to highlight in the letter to increase your chances of getting an interview with the graduate school’s admission board. For example, if you are seeking admission into an MBA in a tech-related course, you can request your recommender to highlight your computer savvy skills such as programming, coding and the awards or achievements you have received in the specific field.
Provide a list of your extracurricular and volunteer activities
Most higher learning academic institutions prefer candidates who are well-rounded scholars. Therefore, your professor will need to highlight your extracurricular and volunteer activities in the recommendation letter to help strengthen your application. If you have participated in any of these activities, be sure to provide your supervisor with a detailed list of the activities and your relevant accomplishments.
Provide a list of graduate schools you are applying to
If you are applying to various graduate schools, you can provide your recommender with a list of the schools and details of their program to help them customize each letter to the particular school.
Give receiver details
The letter of recommendation for graduate school will need to incorporate the recipient’s details. This includes the school’s name, address line, admitting professor’s name, etc.
Give a deadline to submit the letter
The admission board will most likely disregard application materials received after the institution’s stipulated submission deadlines, and this will paint a negative picture of how the admitting team perceives your recommender. It is essential that you give the recommender a deadline to submit the letter to enable them to plan their time well and submit the letter on time.
Send an email
Although the best way to ask for a letter of recommendation is in person, sometimes it might be impossible to meet with your recommender face to face. In such cases, sending a professional email might be considered an appropriate option. However, the email method is only advisable if you know the recommender well enough. However, if you have someone in mind that you haven’t seen or spoken to recently, then it is essential that you meet with them in person to discuss your request.
Essential Elements of a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School
A letter of recommendation for a graduate school will typically cover a range of skills- from academic abilities, research experiences, and applied experiences in and out of the classroom.
The letter will generally include the following essential elements:
- A brief description of who the recommender is, why they are qualified to recommend you, and their professional relationship with you
- A description of why the recommender thinks you are the perfect fit for the program using specific examples and anecdotes to validate their claims
- Specific examples of your greatest accomplishments and personal qualities while in the undergraduate school
- A comparison with your peers, i.e., what makes you qualified for the graduate school program over the other qualified applicants
- What the recommender knows about the program or course you are applying to.
Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School (Sample Letters)
Following are some samples given for you:
To Whom It May Concern:
As a College Professor at Georgia Southern University, I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing Shay Collins for the last four years. She is a tremendous student and a huge asset to our school. I would like to take the opportunity to recommend Shay for your graduate program.
I’m confident that she will continue to succeed in her studies. Shay is a highly dedicated student and thus far her grades have well exceeded tremendously. In class, she is known to be a take-charge person who successfully develops plans and implements them.
Shay has been a huge help around the school and getting involved in academic studies around the school. She has successfully shown leadership by helping prospective students.
It is for these reasons above that I offer high recommendations for Shay without reservation. Her abilities and drive will be an asset to your establishment. If you have any questions regarding this recommendation, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Professor at Georgia Southern University
To Whom This May Concern
As a Dean of Georgia State University, I have had the greatest moments knowing Dre Holland for the past 4 years. He is a remarkably talented and smart individual. I would like to take the opportunity to recommend Dre for your graduate program.
Day in and day out Dre puts his absolute best foot forward through everything that he does, which is why I’m confident that he will continue to succeed within his studies. He’s an amazing team player, who is always there to help others with their issues.
Dre is a highly liked individual around the school due to his respect and caring aspects when it comes to others. Also, he has been involving himself in different academic programs.
It is for these reasons that I offer my recommendations for Dre without reservation. His caring and hands-on academics will be an asset to your establishment. If you have any questions regarding this recommendation, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Dean at Georgia State University
Graduate School Recommendation Letter Examples
Tips for Getting an Impressive Graduate School Recommendation Letter
To get a strong and positive recommendation letter from your selected recommenders, consider the following useful tips:
Give your recommender ample time to write the letter
If you ask your college professor to write you a letter of recommendation for graduate school right away, they may be unwilling to accept the offer, or they most likely will provide a recommendation that does not strongly endorse your candidacy, which is worse than no recommendation at all. As such, a few weeks’ notice before the application deadline date is considered sufficient to write a detailed, impactful letter of recommendation for graduate school.
Choose the best from all your recommenders
When asking for a recommendation letter from someone, it is crucial that you choose the right person. Someone who knows you well enough to vouch for your candidacy can be persuasive enough to encourage the admission board to offer you an opportunity in their school. You will also want to consider someone who can speak to your specific strengths and describe how these strengths will serve you well in the graduate program rather than a recommender who will simply write a letter that states specific skills with no supporting evidence. Admissions committees want to know how you would benefit their program, so you want recommendation letters that will help bring that to life.
Shape your letter
Most recommenders tend to create generic letters of recommendation for all the students, then customize them before submitting them to the graduate faculty program. Such letters usually don’t help the student stand out from the competition. You can avoid this by providing your recommender with all the necessary information to craft a strong letter and ask them to emphasize certain things in the letter, for example, specific skills, relevant accomplishments, or unique circumstances you overcame to succeed in your undergraduate.
Waive your right to review the letter
Letters of recommendation for graduate school are supposed to be sent to the admission board without the student reviewing them. While it might be tempting to want to know what your recommender wrote about you, it is essential to waive your right to review the letter to encourage the recommender to provide a more candid letter of recommendation. Besides, the admission board will know your writers felt free to objectively assess your academia, making the recommendation letter more impactful.
For your recommender to provide the most comprehensive letter of recommendation for your graduate school, you need to provide them with as much information on the qualifications that make you suitable for the program as is necessary. You can provide them your application documents such as your resume, academic transcripts, your achievements, research experience and internships, experiences you’ve shared with them, academic and career goals, as well as all the information that the recommender may need to plan the writing in a timely manner and target the letter as much as possible. You also need to foster relationships with potential referees and request recommendations early enough to avoid last-minute rush and unwillingness from potential recommenders.
Thank your recommender
Regardless of the result of your application to a graduate school, you should always inform your recommenders of the outcome. A well-written thank-you letter, email or card, expressing your gratitude for the recommender’s help is considered appropriate. This is important as it encourages the professor to provide you future recommendation letters when the need arises.
Frequently Asked Questions
Generally, letters of recommendation for graduate school should be written by someone who knows you well academically. Faculty members, research supervisors, and undergraduate academic advisors are often the most qualified to provide recommendation letters. However, other professionals such as an employer who has known and supervised you for at least six months and above can also provide a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school. However, the employer must have specialized in a program related to the course you are applying for or work in a field related to the course you want to pursue.
Letter of recommendations should always be written with more than two paragraphs. Anything less than two shows that you have no clue what the person’s academic performance is overall and that you don’t really know much about them.
Although you don’t want to write less than two paragraphs, you should avoid writing more than one page also because you want to keep it on point and you want to be focused on only a few key points.
In a graduate letter of recommendation, all your including is basically an overall summary of the individual’s achievements as well as their academic performance. The only difference in writing a graduate recommendation letter is that this particular letter is only well written by a professor at a college or university.