When it comes to making your grad school application shine, letters of recommendation have a huge impact. A recommendation letter is a great way to show that your candidacy is vouched for by a knowledgeable person, and also allows you to highlight your best qualities without having to do any gloating yourself!
There’s an art to knowing who and how to ask for a letter of recommendation, so here are some tips to ensure that you get the best possible endorsements from all the right sources.
Who to ask for a letter of recommendation
Start by making a list of people—current or former professors, supervisors, and colleagues—who can speak to what makes you particularly attractive for your grad program of choice. Remember that there is plenty of flexibility when it comes to who makes for a good source. If you’re pursuing a master’s in journalism, for instance, you don’t need to ask a journalism professor or a journalist. English teachers who can elucidate your research and writing skills would work just as well.
Make sure to check each grad school’s application guidelines to see if they have any suggestions or specific criteria. Most programs typically require two or three letters that vary in terms of sources and areas of emphasis—meaning one may be more focused on your professional or academic qualifications, and another might be more about your qualities as a person.
The purpose of a recommendation letter is to give the grad school admissions team a better idea of who you are and why you’d be a great addition to their program—so the more wide-ranging your list, the better. Also make sure to have more people in mind than you need. It’s best to have at least four or five prospects you can reach out to, just in case a couple of requests don’t pan out.
How to ask for a letter of recommendation
The best way to ask for a recommendation is in person or with a phone call. Your recommenders will appreciate the personal touch, and you’ll also get an immediate response—which can help you plan out the rest of your requests.
If those options don’t work, a personalized email is still a great way to go. Keep it short and sweet, but be clear about why you’re asking them in particular, and provide whatever details they need to write a thorough letter. Here’s a template to get you started:
Firstly, I want to thank you so much for [SPECIFICS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP—GUIDANCE, TEACHING, COLLABORATION, FRIENDSHIP, ETC.]. It has been an inspiration to me as I’ve considered taking the next steps in my academic career.
I’m excited to share that I’m in the process of applying to [SCHOOL] to study [SUBJECT], and would love it if you would consider writing me a letter of recommendation. The program is looking for [CRITERIA GIVEN BY THE SCHOOL, OR DETAILS ABOUT YOU THE RECOMMENDER SHOULD FOCUS ON], and I think your endorsement would make a big impact on my application.
The due date for submissions is [DATE], so I would need your letter by [AT LEAST A WEEK OR TWO BEFORE DUE DATE], just to be safe.
Please let me know if you will be able to support my candidacy at [SCHOOL] with a letter.
Thank you in advance for you time and I hope to have a chance to connect in person soon!,
Make sure to ask early!
The most important thing to remember is that reaching out to your list as soon as possible increases your chances of getting your top names. College professors in particular tend to get many requests, and even the most generous members of your network can’t accept them all.
Writing a good recommendation also takes time and effort, and the people you ask will appreciate having as much notice as you can offer. Get your requests in early, and make sure your grad school application is ready to go while you wait. This way, you can submit the moment you receive your letters and be ahead of the game.
Looking for other ways to prepare? Check out our article, Graduate School Life | What to Expect.