Getting a Recommendation letter

Recommendations letters are one of the most important components of your graduate school application.  While your GRE score signifies your ability to do well on standardized exams, recommendation letters tell a prospective program who you are and how you’ll fit within their department.  Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. If you’re even thinking about attending graduate school, go to a professor’s office hours.  Share your academic interests with him or her.  Take the initiative and help the professor get to know you. The better you get to know each other, the better he or she can speak to who you are.  Plus, getting to know a professor will help you learn more about graduate school, provide you with a mentor, and might even help you secure some undergraduate research projects.  Recommendation letters need to show:
    1. Your critical thinking skills
    2. Your writing abilities
    3. The type of scholar you wish to be
    4. Your work ethic
    5. Your ability to collaborate on projects

Thus, it’s really important to start putting in the effort now and find a professor who can address these characteristics.

2. If you attend a large university, it is likely you’ve taken classes taught by graduate students, or simply have more contact with grad assistants rather than the course professor.  Although this grad student may know you better, it’s really important to secure letters from professors.  Prospective departments want to see your abilities, as determined by an established scholar in the field.

3. If possible, get letters from professors with whom you’ve taken multiple classes.  This way, professors can speak to your abilities across time and with different challenges.

4. Do your research!  This means knowing why you want to attend a particular graduate program and why you’re right for each other.  Share this information with those who will be writing your letters.

5. Be respectful of letter writers’ time.  Bring them all the information they need, including addresses, any necessary forms, or web addresses if applicable.  Most importantly, give them plenty of time and don’t forget to thank them.