Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

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Many employers who are asked to write an employee's letter of recommendation for graduate school feel ill-equipped to the task. The important thing to remember is that graduate programs want to know if candidates are able to succeed in graduate school.

While you have no way of knowing this, you do have information that the admissions committee will find useful. Simply describe your employee's strengths and competencies and explain how you think these qualities make them well prepared for graduate study.

What does the employee do well? Does he demonstrate good reasoning and problem-solving? Let's explore the finer points of writing a recommendation and read through a sample letter to help you get started.

What to Include in a Recommendation

The first hurdle to get over in a letter of recommendation is addressing it to the right person. Ask your employee if they have a specific name and address the person as Dr. unless otherwise indicated. If no name is provided, address it to the admissions committee. 

The next step is to provide context. Discuss how you know the person and define the context of your knowledge. How long have you known them? If it's a short period of time, indicate why you feel qualified to make a judgment on the applicant's behalf.

You will then want to identify and discuss qualities of the person that make her well suited to graduate study in her chosen field. An effective recommendation letter shows rather than tells.

Use examples to show how the applicant exemplifies each quality.

Examples of characteristics and qualities that are valued by graduate programs include intelligence, creativity, scientific aptitude, diligence, writing skills, teaching skills, clinical skills, professionalism, and research skills.

Keep in mind that no one letter will comment on all the skills an applicant may have.

It is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that she has a collection of recommendation letters that collectively portray all of her abilities.

You have a set of experiences with the applicant and can only discuss her capacities as you know them. For example, you might discuss and provide examples of why she is an excellent employee. You can also discuss how she goes above and beyond the duties required of the job.

Topics to comment on include initiative, intelligence, collegiality, professionalism, and why you think she will succeed in graduate school.

What to Avoid in a Recommendation

While there is any number of great qualifications that you can share with your employee's graduate program, there are also a few key items to avoid discussing in this context. These include, but are not limited to, personal relationships (especially if he's a family member), errors that were never corrected, or any additional personal information that does not benefit how he appears in the eyes of the committee. 

The recommendation letter is your opportunity to reward all of the great work your employee did. View it as an evaluation of that person's performance on the job, highlighting details they excelled or improved upon while under your employment.

However, you don't want to air any unfinished business or "dirty laundry" through a recommendation letter, especially since these are meant to be sealed upon delivery. All you would be doing is hurting your employee's chances of getting into the school of his dreams.

If you have reservations about the employee and his capacity to succeed in graduate school or a career, then do not write on his behalf.

Sample Recommendation Letter

With those things in mind, you'll find it beneficial to read through a sample letter. This recommendation follows a rather standard format. It begins with an introduction and the purpose of the letter. It then moves into the context of your professional relationship before explaining the applicant's relevant skills.

Notice how the paragraphs are short and get to the point.

Also, the line break in between paragraphs helps make it more readable.

Dear [Dr. Last Name]:

I am writing to you with regard to [Mr./Ms. Full Name], who has requested that I write a letter of recommendation on [his/her] behalf. [First Name] and I discussed [his/her] recent decision to pursue graduate study and I support [his/her] decision and strong desire to take [his/her] dedication and skill to the next level.

I have worked with [First Name] for [time span]. Specifically, [explain the context of your relationship. Are you a supervisor? Of what?]. [Applicant's] duties include [explain].

Over the time that I have known [Applicant], he/she has consistently performed [his/her] duties with competence and often goes the extra mile, doing more than expected. [Provide a specific example].

[Applicant] is an excellent problem solver. [Provide an example.] In addition, [he/she] is an excellent communicator and has the skills and personality needed to be a leader. [Explain/provide an example of how Applicant demonstrates communication skills. Describe some personality characteristics that you believe are helpful to his/her success].

While [Applicant's] leaving our company to attend graduate school is a loss to us, I have every confidence that [Applicant] will thrive in a graduate school setting. The applicant is an intelligent, committed, and inquisitive individual. I believe that [he/she] will be an asset to your program.


[Your Name Here]

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Your Citation
Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School." ThoughtCo, Oct. 17, 2017, Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2017, October 17). Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School. Retrieved from Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 20, 2017).