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Letters of Recommendation

Whom do I ask?

Different types of references might be requested depending on application requirements and the field. Be sure that you contact the correct type of reference for your application.

  • Academic (usually)
    • A professor or other college-level instructor who has worked closely with you in your field or a closely related one.
    • This person should know you and your work well enough to speak very specifically about your performance and abilities.
    • They should have an overall favorable impression of you, though they do not necessarily need to be someone that you got along with well on a personal level, so long as you made an outstanding impression academically.
  • Supervisory (sometimes)
    • Someone who has worked closely with you in a professional or para-professional role as your supervisor or mentor.
    • This person should know you and your work well enough to speak very specifically about your performance and abilities.
  • Personal (rare)
    • Someone unrelated to you who can speak about your personal attributes as related to the program.
    • Do not submit a personal reference unless requested.

When do I ask?

  • Ideally six weeks before the recommendation is due, in order to ensure that your recommender has sufficient time to complete it.
  • If you cannot give your recommenders six weeks, be prepared with alternates in case they have to turn you down.
  • After your recommender has agreed to write for you, enter their information into the online application form as soon as possible so that they can get the instructions right away.
    • The instructions will automatically send from the application portal.

What do I say?

  • Faculty are used to being asked for letters of recommendation, so ask with confidence.
  • Find out if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation, with detail about your accomplishments.
  • If you can, make an appointment to meet with the recommender to talk about your graduate school plans, research plans, past accomplishments, etc.
  • Thank them for agreeing to write a letter.

What information do I provide?

  • Program name, school name and deadlines
  • Website info
    • If your recommender is not familiar with the program, provide them with links to the program website.
    • When you begin the application, you will enter their information in the recommendations section — do this immediately upon receiving their agreement.
  • Resume/C.V.
  • Personal Statement or Notes
    • If you are still working on your personal statement, you can send a draft (with a note that indicates that the statement is in draft form).
      • Send updated drafts as they are available until your recommender has completed the recommendation.
    • If you have not yet written your personal statement, send some notes or an outline of what you might right.

Should I waive my right to read the recommendation?

  • Yes. Then letter writers feel free to say what they want to say. If you are worried someone will say something bad about you, you probably shouldn’t have him/her as a recommender. Some professors will hand you a copy of their letter—read it, feel good about yourself, and take it out from time to time when you question your ability.

How do I get my recommenders to submit on time?

  • Send a reminder email a week or two before the deadline and then another a few days before the deadline.
    • If your recommender has agreed to submit a letter and has not yet submitted by two days before the deadline, find ways to contact them other than email (visit their office, find a phone number, ask a department administrator, etc.).

How can I show gratitude to my recommenders?

  • Thank them formally (a card is nice).