Asking For Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are required for almost every graduate school application and are a very important part of the application process. Usually grades and test scores factor in most heavily; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Although it can vary, generally, you will be asked for three letters. We recommend that you send only the number of letters requested. Admissions committees do not have enough time to read extra credentials.

Whom should I ask for letters of recommendation?

The best letter writers are those that know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at the graduate level.

    Recommended Letter Writers
  • Someone who knows you well
  • Someone with the title of "Professor"
  • Someone who is a professor at the school granting your baccalaureate degree
  • Someone who has earned the degree which you are seeking in your graduate work
  • Someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship aligned with the graduate program you are pursuing (e.g., Public Health, Social Work, Business Administration, etc.)
  • Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class
  • Note: Letters from family friends, political figures, and the like are discouraged and, in fact, may be detrimental.

How do I approach potential letter writers?

First, make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then, set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email. Be prepared to articulate your interest and reasons for attending graduate school.

Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis. The best approach is to ask potential letter writers if they are willing to write you a strong letter. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.

When should I approach letter writers? What if I plan to take some time off before I go to graduate school?

Professors and supervisors are generally pleased to write on your behalf; however, they are usually involved in many activities. Faculty are especially busy during the months of November and December. Be considerate of your letter writers’ time and approach them at least two months before you need the letter.

How can I go about getting good letters of recommendation?

Since your best letters will come from those who know you well, make an effort to get to know your professors and/or supervisors. A few ways you can do this are to speak up in class, select courses with small class sizes, take more than one class from a professor, do research for a professor, take on optional projects, and regularly attend office hours.

The best strategy you can use to get a good letter of recommendation, particularly if a professor hasn't known you long, is to provide your letter writer with ample information about you. This way, you will get a letter that includes concrete details about you, instead of a letter that contains only your grade, which is of limited value.

What information do my letter writers need to write good letters?

You can help your letter writers write enlightening letters by giving each of them a portfolio comprised of:

    A cover note that includes:
  • Information on how to get in touch with you in case they need to reach you
  • What you would like emphasized in each letter
  • A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates, with the earliest due date at the top
  • Any other information that is relevant
  • Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledgement that the letter writer’s time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future