How important are letters of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation are required for almost every graduate school application and are a very important part of the application process. Usually grades and test scores factor in most heavily; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process. Strong letters of recommendation can strengthen your application and if there are deficiencies in your application, they can help to outweigh them.
How many letters of recommendation do I need?
Each institution will let you know how many letters it requires. Generally, you will be asked for three letters. We recommend that you send only the amount of letters requested. Admissions committees do not have enough time to read extra credentials.
Whom should I ask for letters of recommendation?
The best letter writers are those that know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at the graduate level. If you are planning to attend graduate school, take every opportunity to get to know and talk with your professors: go to office hours, ask questions in class, seek advice about your career, do independent research or study with a professor whose recommendation you may want.
Graduate and professional school admissions people tell us the following make the best letter writers:
- Someone who knows you well
- Someone with the title of "Professor"
- Someone who is a professor at the school granting your baccalaureate degree
- Someone who has earned the degree which you are seeking in your graduate work
- Someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship aligned with the graduate program you are pursuing (e.g., Public Health, Social Work, Business Administration, etc.)
- Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class
- Note: letters from family friends, political figures, and the like usually are discouraged and may, in fact, be detrimental.
How do I approach potential letter writers?
First, make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then, set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email. Be prepared to articulate your interest and reasons for attending graduate school.
Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis; a faculty member or employer may decline to write them. The best approach is to ask potential letter writers if they are willing to write you a strong letter. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.