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Getting Letters of Recommendation for Grad School

written by: •edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 1/7/2011

How does a student request a letter of recommendation for graduate school? Who do they ask? What information should the student provide? What should they do once the letter has been sent? This article will address these questions and more.

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    Who to Ask?

    When preparing a graduate school application, students want to find professors or professionals who will be able to write solid, concise letters of recommendation. So, who to ask?

    The best choices when requesting a letter of recommendation for graduate school are professors or professionals (employers, school administrators) who students have had a strong relationship with during the course of their undergraduate career. This could be a professor to whom the student presented a special project or an active advisor for the student. Additionally, the student could ask the supervisor of their work study or an administrator who assisted them in some way, such as obtaining financial aid. The key is for the student to ask people who actually know who they are in a crowded classroom or on campus, not someone who may have seen them two or three times, but has no idea what their name is.

    Depending on the school, you may need 3 or 4 letters. Some schools request two academic and two professional.

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    When to Ask and What Information to Send?

    A student should ask for a letter of recommendation as soon as they know they will be applying for graduate school. Do not expect writers to send off glowing recommendations when they are given a few days to do so.

    It is best to ask in writing (this gives you a paper trail) at least a month before you need your letter. The following information should be sent to the writer.

    • Name and address of the graduate school on an addressed and stamped envelope (Letters of recommendation are always sent sealed to the schools. Many schools will not accept letters of recommendations that are not sealed and signed.)
    • The degree program being applied to, such as Masters of Education in Reading and Writing, or Doctoral degree in Biochemistry
    • Pertinent information that will help the writer remember what the student has accomplished (For instance - "I created a new filing system during my work study," or, "In junior year, the research I did on molecular mutations was published in Such and Such Journal.")
    • A copy of the student's up-to-date resume or CV
    • Date the letter is due to the graduate school
    • Contact information of the student so that the writer can send a copy of the letter, if they wish to do so, and/or let the student know that the letter has been sent

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    Once the Letter Is Sent

    Once a letter of recommendation for graduate school is sent, the student should send a short thank you note to the writer. This should be done in writing. Emailing a thank you is common in this day and age, but a handwritten thank you note creates a long-lasting impression. There is nothing like a handwritten note from a student.

    The note does not need to be wordy. A simple, "Thank you for writing a letter of recommendation for graduate school. I appreciate your support," is fine.

    Finally, it is wise to contact the school to make sure they have received everything they need for the application, including the letters of recommendation well before they are due.

    Requesting a letter of recommendation for graduate school from a professor who really knows you can be the catalyst for launching a successful graduate school career.