Recommendations After Graduation

How to Get Letters Even Years After Finishing School

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Applying to graduate school can be a difficult process, especially for students that completed their undergraduate years before starting the application.

Although the transcripts are still valid, oftentimes these former students have lost touch with their advisors and professors — those that could write recommendation letters for them — and feel they have nowhere to turn to seek these critical parts of their application packets.

Fortunately, though, there are many options when it comes to those that can write recommendation letters for graduate school applications, including professional contacts and even those long-lost professors — it just takes a little bit of reaching out!

Contact Former Professors

Although many students fear their professors from years ago will not remember, there's a good chance that they will, and it never hurts to reach out and ask for a small favor in the long and difficult process of getting a professional career. 

Regardless of whether or not they remember the particular student's winning personality or personal details of their lives, professors keep records of grades that will help them evaluate whether they can write a helpful letter on the student's behalf. Professors are used to hearing from former students years after graduation, so although it may seem as if it's a long shot — it may not be as difficult as some might think.

Even if the professor has left the institution, applicants can contact the department and request contact information like an email address or run an Internet search on the professor's name. The professor should be easy to find if he or she is working at another institution, but if the professor is retired, it may be beneficial to try sending an email to his or her university email as many professors hold on to university email accounts and check them.

What to Say to Former Professors

When a student contacts a former professor, it is important that he or she mention what classes were taken, when, what grades were earned, and any thing that might help him or her remember that particular student. Applicants should be sure to give the professor enough information to remember and to write a good letter, including CVs, copies of papers the student has written for his or her classes, and the usual materials.

After 5 years, students should also consider including a letter from someone who is in a position to evaluate his or her capacities now. Can an employer or colleague write about his or her work habits and skills? In any case, it's important for applicants to remember that their colleague is to write about his or her knowledge of the applicant in a professional context, discussing relevant skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, communication, time management, and so on.

Another alternative is to enroll in a graduate course (as a non-matriculated, or non-degree-seeking student), perform well, and then ask the professor to write on the student's behalf to apply to the full graduate program.