Requesting Letters of Recommendation…the Right Way

When it comes to completing the graduate application process, one of the most important things I learned was to treat each piece of the application as if it is the only component that will determine whether or not I am accepted into a program. Personal statement. Make it the best piece I had ever written. The CV/resume should be without spot or wrinkle, formatted perfectly, as if that alone was my ticket in. Recommendation letters. Wait, do I really have control over these since a faculty member is writing it on my behalf? Of course you do! There are a few important tidbits I want to share that guided me when requesting recommendation letters:

  • Who you should seek out to write your letters? Primarily faculty members. Those who will be going through your application will primarily be faculty members who want to hear what other faculty members have to say about you. They’re interested in what you have to offer to the program, your academic and research capacity. Your professors know you firsthand when it comes to these qualities. In addition to faculty members, you can request letters from supervisors at your research/teaching/graduate assistantships or whatever company or business you work for.
  • Make good impressions EARLY. Whether it’s for entering a master’s or doctoral program, it’s crucial to build relationships with your faculty members, supervisors at your assistantships and others you come in contact with. Remember when you entered undergraduate and you attended orientation and then those “getting you ready for college” type sessions and events? One of the points they often emphasized was going to your professors’ office hours sooner rather than later. Same rule applies when preparing to enter graduate school. Consistently chatting with your professor about your goals and specifically the course you’re taking from him or her shows them that you’re invested and have your priorities in order. That way, when it is time to request a recommendation letter, they can confidently craft one on your behalf.
  • When you actually begin the application process, give your potential recommenders ample time to get your letters completed. Faculty are very busy people so be considerate of their time by letting them know far in advance when you need the letter. Four to six weeks before would be ideal. The earlier the better so that if you do have to remind them, you will have some “wiggle room”. Professors get a case of procrastination at times just like we as students do!
  • When requesting the letter, DO NOT ask via email. Schedule a meeting with your professor, and during that meeting, explain your goals, why you want to apply to the program you’re applying to, and other pertinent information that may be helpful to them. If you have been doing what I mentioned in the first point, the explanation should simply be a recap of what you have discussed throughout the semester/year. Also, present your professor with materials that will help while crafting your letter such as your CV, transcripts, essays etc.
  • Finally, if your potential recommender happens to decline writing your letter, be ok with that. Do not continue trying to persuade him or her to write it if they immediately decline. The reality is that a professor isn’t obligated to submit a recommendation letter for you; so if that professor declines, politely move on to the next.

Sometimes we are intimidated by professors and may feel uncomfortable asking them for recommendations. But making good impressions throughout your time in your program will make the process a breeze. Check out this link for more tips!