Letters of Recommendations

Letters of recommendation are another important component of your application materials. They provide a professional opinion of your intellectual abilities and preparation for graduate school, and are usually written by a professor who not only addresses your specific strengths, but compares you to the many students with whom the professor has worked during his or her career. In other words, the admission committee wants to know how you "stack up" against all the students the recommender has ever had! In general, most programs/universities require three letters of support.

  • Build relationships with potential letter-writers throughout your undergraduate years. If you are even remotely thinking about graduate school, you should get to know professors so that you will be able to ask them, rather than graduate students or lecturers, for recommendation letters. For some disciplines, a letter from an employer may be weighed similarly to a professor (for example, business or education), but this is quite rare in the arts and humanities unless it is directly related to graduate studies. A tenured professor is best.
  • Line up your letter writers as early as the year before you apply, but no later than the beginning of the fall term that you will be applying.
  • Determine how many letters are required for each program, and plan to ask for one more since it is common for a recommender to fail to send a letter.
  • Ask the letter writer if he or she would feel comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation. If no, thank him or her and move on to another individual. It is important that the letter be very positive.
  • Make an appointment to discuss your graduate school goals, once the person has agreed to write a letter. At that time, provide the recommender with the recommendation form, a draft of your statement of purpose, and an addressed, stamped envelope. You can also provide a curriculum vitae or résumé. You should update the recommender with your latest academic goals and personal activities. Be sure to review the deadline together. Give him or her a minimum of one month to complete the letter.
  • Send a "gentle reminder" via e-mail a few days before the due date, if you are not sure a recommender has sent the letter.