Requesting Letters of Recommendation

If you’re applying to graduate school, a strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member, former employer, professor, supervisor, or coach can make a big difference.

The Importance of a Good Recommendation

When you apply to graduate school, your grades, test scores, personal statement, and letters of recommendation typically make up the bulk of what the admissions committee will consider for its decision. The more competitive a graduate program is, the more letters of recommendation count during the final decision-making process.

Who to Ask

Many schools prefer that you have letters of recommendation written by employers and professors who have knowledge of your work and study habits. You may also choose to ask a coach, activities supervisor, former employer, or academic advisor to write one for you.

  • Select your letter writers carefully. Will they say good things about you? Do they know you well enough to write about you in a detailed and persuasive manner? Are they reliable enough to write and post your recommendation before it is due?
  • Be sure to read the school’s requirements for letters of recommendation carefully; most do not require that all of your letters be written by professors, but some do.
  • A more specific letter from someone who knows you well will carry more weight than a vague letter from someone well-known or someone higher up in an organization where you’ve worked.
  • Keep in mind that a graduate school admissions committee will expect letters from certain people. For example if you conducted a senior research project, the committee will expect a letter from your faculty advisor. If you reported directly to the president at your last internship or job, the committee will expect a letter from him/her.
  • Have an honest conversation with your letter writers. Ask if they are able to write a strong letter of recommendation. This can be tough, but it is better to find out that someone is not able to endorse your candidacy before their letter is sent to the admissions committee.

  • Ensure that your recommenders have your most up-to-date resume or CV. They will be able to refer back to this if needed.
  • Provide your recommenders with a copy of your transcript.
  • Send them a copy of the latest draft of your personal essay or statement of purpose. This will help them understand why you chose the programs you’re applying to and what your future goals might be.
  • For professors, provide copies of all works submitted for their class, including tests and papers. Papers should be original versions that have the professor’s written comments and feedback.
  • You may also wish to include a list of the other individuals you plan to ask for letters of recommendation.
  • Be sure to provide stamps, envelopes, and any other forms (filled out) that your recommender might need to submit their letter of recommendation.
  • Provide them with suggested talking points, such as which research or projects you worked on and your roles/responsibilities, especially if your recommender is also writing recommendations for other individuals or if he/she is not someone you happen to know very well. Ultimately, your recommender will write whatever he/she wants to.

When to Ask

Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach out to your recommenders.

  • If you’re asking a professor, visit him/her often during the academic year. Show him/her your list of target schools and discuss your motivations for wanting to attend certain programs.
  • You should not ask someone for a letter of recommendation a few days before it is due. Give the individual plenty of lead time (we recommend at least six weeks) and set a deadline, prior to the actual deadline.
  • Manage up. It is your job to prompt your recommender to write and post the letter on time. Send a gentle reminder once a week (starting three weeks before the deadline) to move the process along and/or check in to see if they need more information from you.
  • After your recommender submits the letter, be sure to follow up with a thank-you note.

Should You Waive Your Rights?

On almost every graduate school application, you have the option to sign away your rights to review letters of recommendation in your educational files or to retain the right to review them. It is recommended that you waive your rights to review the letters. This shows a graduate program that you do not have any qualms about what your recommenders will say about you in their letters of recommendation and that you put your trust in them. You should do your best to select recommenders you can trust and who will write about you in a positive manner. Your recommender may also choose to share their letter with you.

Credential Services: Interfolio

The CCD encourages students to establish a credential file to house and manage not only letters of recommendation, but transcripts, and other graduate school related documents. Students who plan to ask for recommendations well ahead of when they plan to apply to graduate school should establish a file prior to graduation.

The CCD recommends Interfolio as one resource for electronically establishing and maintaining a credential file. Interfolio is an online service that provides safe storage and electronic or paper sending of your credentials documents. New clients may open accounts directly with Interfolio.