Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

Woman reading letter of recommendation
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Most graduate school applicants will need two to three recommendation letters that can be submitted to the admissions committee as part of the application process. This is true if you are applying to business school, medical school, law school, or another graduate program.

Not every school requests a letter - some online schools as well as brick-and-mortar schools with lax admission requirements will not ask for a letter of recommendation. But the schools with competitive admissions processes (i.e. the ones who get a lot of applicants but don't have enough seats for everyone) will use recommendation letters, in part, to determine whether or not you are a fit for their school. (Schools also use other factors, such as your undergraduate transcripts, standardized test scores, essays, etc.)

Why Graduate Schools Ask for Recommendations

Graduate schools ask for recommendations for the same reason employers ask for career references: they want to know what other people have to say about you. Nearly every other resource that you provide to a school looks at you from your point of view. Your resume is your interpretation of your career achievements, your essay answers a question with your opinion or tells a story from your point of view, and your admissions interview includes questions that are again answered from your point of view. A recommendation letter, on the other hand, is all about someone else's view of you, your potential, and your accomplishments. 

Most graduate schools encourage you to choose a recommender that knows you well. This ensures that your recommendation letter actually has something to say and isn't full of fluff or vague opinions about your work experience, academic qualifications, etc. Someone who knows you well will be able to provide well-informed opinions and concrete examples to back them up. 

Sample Letter of Recommendation for a Graduate School Applicant

This is a sample recommendation for a graduate school applicant. It was written by the applicant's college dean, who was familiar with the applicant's academic achievements. The letter is short but does a good job of emphasizing things that would be important to a graduate school admissions committee, such as GPA, work ethic, and leadership ability. Notice how the letter writer includes plenty of adjectives to describe the person being recommended. There is also an example of how the subjects leadership capability has helped others.

This letter would be even stronger if the letter writer had provided additional examples or pointed to quantifiable results. For example, he could have included the numbers of students the subject has worked with or examples of how the subject has helped others. Examples of the plans that she developed and how she implemented them would have been useful as well. 

To Whom It May Concern:

As the Dean of Stonewell College, I have had the pleasure of knowing Hannah Smith for the last four years. She has been a tremendous student and an asset to our school. I would like to take this opportunity to recommend Hannah for your graduate program.

I feel confident that she will continue to succeed in her studies. Hannah is a dedicated student and thus far her grades have been exemplary. In class, she has proven to be a take-charge person who is able to successfully develop plans and implement them.

Hannah has also assisted us in our admissions office. She has successfully demonstrated leadership ability by counseling new and prospective students. Her advice has been a great help to these students, many of whom have taken time to share their comments with me regarding her pleasant and encouraging attitude.

It is for these reasons that I offer high recommendations for Hannah without reservation. Her drive and abilities will truly be an asset to your establishment. If you have any questions regarding this recommendation, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Roger Fleming

Dean of Stonewell College