Applying to Graduate School: Getting Good Letters of Rec

There are a lot of steps you have to take to get into graduate school including the all-important letters of recommendation.

This may not seem that bad since your professors are the ones actually writing the letters, but you still don’t want to overlook the importance of thoughtful planning for this step.

Start early!
Most deadlines for application materials start in November or December. If you wait until the last minute to request recommendation letters you may find that professors don’t have the time because of end of the semester chaos. It is best to give your letter writers a minimum of three weeks to write their letters.   If you know certain professors have a habit of being late, you can provide a date that is earlier than the real deadline so that way if they don’t get it done as quickly, your application won’t suffer.

Do More Than Ask the Question
When asking for recommendation letters, you want to provide your writers with all the information that can help them tailor their letters to fit the programs. It can be helpful to provide them with a description of the program and your career goals, your CV or resume, a copy of your personal statement or another writing sample, and even a copy of your transcript. The more specific you are, then the more control you have over what topics the writers will cover in their letters. Also, in a good recommendation letter, writers will provide specific examples or anecdotes that illustrate their comments about your skills and abilities.

It’s Okay to “Nudge” People
As crunch time nears, keep in mind that if professors agree to write your letters, it is acceptable and beneficial to send them a reminder about a week before the letters are due. After all your application materials are turned in, don’t forget to send your writers thank you notes for their help. Finally, congratulate yourself for not only deciding to pursue a graduate degree, but surviving the application process. You’re almost there!