Getting into Grad School – Letters of Recommendation

Don’t forget to give your writers PLENTY of notice.

I’ll just go ahead and say it, asking people to write me letters of recommendation is one of my LEAST favorite things to do. Asking for letters of recommendation can be stressful. You have to find the right people to ask, hope that they are willing to do you the favor, and then relinquish a little control over how you will be represented to admissions committees. Yuck yuck yuck. The whole thing makes my stomach churn a little, every time I have to do it. Unfortunately, this process isn’t going away any time soon, so here are my tips for making the process less painful.

Ask right away. - As soon as you know who you are asking, don’t procrastinate. Give that person as much notice as possible. It’s the courteous thing to do, and it leaves you room to send reminder emails later.

Provide all the info upfront. - It’s best to provide all the information you can in that first email where you make your request. That way, the person writing the letter doesn’t have to go searching around last minute for all the details and instructions. Things you’ll want to include:

  1. Where you’re applying
  2. Why you’re applying there and why you’re a good fit – A  brief summary will help your “recommender” construct a more detailed letter.
  3. Your current CV and any other application materials you’ve completed – Your recommender won’t be able to remember all your qualifications off the top of their head.
  4. Logistical info – where the letter or email should be sent, who it should be addressed to, when it is due, and any other relevant information

If you don’t hear back, follow up. - Once someone has agreed to write you a letter, check in with them when the deadline is drawing near – I would say somewhere between one to two weeks before the letters are due. A gentle reminder might be necessary (students aren’t the only ones who procrastinate).

Say thanks! - Yes, it’s kinda in the job description that professors have to write recommendation letters, but it’s also nice of them to take time away from their other responsibilities to construct a thoughtful letter on your behalf. So show your appreciation with an email or better yet a thank you note.