Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters

How you ask for a letter is as important as whom you ask.

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Obtaining letters of recommendation for graduate school is just part of the application process, but those letters are a crucial component. You may feel that you have no control over the content of these letters or you may wonder whom to askRequesting a recommendation letter is daunting, but you need to consider the challenge that your professors and others face in writing these letters. Read on to learn how to ask for a recommendation letter in a way that will get results.

Requesting the Letters

You can either ask for a recommendation letter in person or through a (snail mail) letter. Don't ask via a quick email, which can feel impersonal and stands a great chance of getting lost or deleted, or even finding its way into the dreaded spam folder.

Even if you ask in person, provide the potential recommender with a letter that includes background information, including your current resume—if you don't have one, create one—and links to the graduate schools to which you are applying. Briefly mention specific qualities and academic skills that you would like your reference to mention.

No matter how well you think your recommender knows you, remember that this person is a professor, adviser, or even an employer, who has many things on her plate. Anything you can to do provide her with more information about you can make her letter-writing job easier—and it can help point the letter in a direction you want it to go, ensuring that it includes the points you want your recommender to make.

Be prepared to discuss the type of degree you seek, programs to which you are applying, how you arrived at your choices, goals for graduate study, future aspirations, and why you believe the faculty member, adviser, or employer is a good candidate to write a letter on your behalf.

Be Direct

Though you're applying for graduate school, keep in mind some general tips when asking for a recommendation letter for any purpose, be it graduate school, a job, or even an internship. Online job search engine Monster.com advises that when you are asking for a recommendation letter, just pop the question. Don't beat around the bush; come right out and ask. Say something like:

“I’m applying for an internship, and I need to include two letters of recommendation. Would you be willing to write one for me? I’d need it by the 20th.”

Suggest some talking points: With a professor, as noted, it might be best to do this in a letter. But, if you're asking an adviser or employer, consider stating these points verbally and succinctly. Say something like:

"Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I was hoping you could mention the research I conducted and the input I provided for the grant proposal the organization submitted last month."

So what else does it take to ensure your recommenders write solid letters for you? A good, helpful letter of recommendation will discuss you in detail and provide evidence to support those statements. The information you provide will—hopefully—ensure that your recommenders include those details in a direct but comprehensive manner.

Tips and Hints

No one can speak with more authority about a student's academic abilities than a former professor or instructor. But a good letter of recommendation goes beyond classroom grades. The best referrals offer detailed examples of how you have grown as an individual and provide insight into how you stand out from your peers. 

A well-written letter of recommendation should also be relevant to the program for which you are applying. For example, if you're applying for an online graduate program and you've had success in previous distance-learning courses, you might ask that professor for a referral. 

Good letters of recommendation are written by people who know and have a vested interest in your success. They offer detailed and relevant examples that demonstrate why you would be a good fit for a graduate program. A bad letter of recommendation, by contrast, is vague and indifferent. Take the necessary steps so that the graduate programs you are applying to don't receive those kinds of letters about you.

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Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters." ThoughtCo, Jun. 14, 2018, thoughtco.com/sample-graduate-school-recommendation-letters-1685932. Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2018, June 14). Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sample-graduate-school-recommendation-letters-1685932 Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sample-graduate-school-recommendation-letters-1685932 (accessed June 18, 2018).