Asking for a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

Recommendation letters for graduate school are used by admissions officers to fill out their knowledge of you as a candidate. The rest of your application package details your history, skills, and motivation behind applying; a recommendation letter corroborates all the reasons you’d be a great fit and gives your application more credibility.

For these reasons, it’s important that your recommenders can speak to your strengths. If you’re applying to graduate school, this individual should be able to write about your academic abilities and potential. A professor or a research supervisor are good people to ask. Consider the following: Have you built strong relationships with professors, or had a rapport with a certain faculty member or work contact? Was there a class that particularly challenged you and helped you grow? Have you had a particular experience that shaped your career interests? Did you complete a project similar to your desired program’s work, and who supported you in this process? These kinds of questions can help as you determine who to approach for a letter.

Now the hard part––asking! This process can be intimidating, but it’s our hope this post and others on our website will clear up any lingering questions. We also have an upcoming virtual workshop called “How to Request a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School” on October 1st at 3:30 PM EST. If you’ve been wondering about this topic, or think it might be useful for the future, we highly encourage you to attend. It’s never too early to think about the next steps!

  1. Identify the right time. Ask your potential recommenders a minimum of two months before the letter’s deadline. If like me, you’re taking time off between college and other programs, you should ask for letters of recommendation before you graduate. This way, they can be written and stored away for the future while specific details about you and your abilities are fresh.
  2. Write an email. Crafting a good email will help you get the ball rolling! It’s important to remind anyone you’re asking how they know you––did you attend their class or support their research? Specifying your connection to them will help jog their memory.

Explain what you’re applying for. Point out a few aspects of your next steps you’re excited about and share how they complement your goals and career aspirations.

Ask if they would be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation. It’s important to make this distinction––in order for your application as strong as possible, your recommendations should be too!

Propose to schedule a time to meet to discuss your request and send them supplemental information; documents like your résumé, personal statement, or cover letter. This will help them learn more about you and have concrete examples to refer to as they write your recommendation.

  1. Meeting Face to Face. Prepare to talk further about your career aspirations and the opportunity you’re applying to. This meeting (in person when possible, otherwise virtually) will round you out to your recommender and give them a better understanding of what you need in a letter.
  2. Follow-up. Make sure to send deadline reminders to your recommender, while avoiding sending too many. Think of how you would react to daily email reminders in their shoes!
  3. Say thank you! Express your gratitude to your recommender throughout the process and especially after they’ve submitted your letter. They’ve taken time out of their lives to do you this big favor, and it’s important to show appreciation.

While asking for letters of recommendation can be daunting, we hope this post has made the process more accessible. Our upcoming workshop, “How to Request a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School,” is a great chance to answer any remaining questions you have and to dedicate time towards drafting recommendation requests.

Even if this workshop isn’t something you feel you need right now, you might consider making an appointment with one of our career coaches, reading a longer document with more tips, or exploring Handshake for more opportunities. Don’t forget, the Center is always here for further information.

Written by Daniella Angulo, submitted by Beth Settje

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels