Applying to Graduate School, Part Four:Letters of Recommendation

by kathleenljackson

It’s pretty standard for you to submit three letters of recommendations with your graduate application. It is strongly recommended that those recommendations come from academics you have either studied or worked under; people who have seen your capabilities.  You really need people who can comment on the following:

  • Academic achievement
  • Intellectual potential
  • Quality of writing/speaking
  • Creative, original thought
  • Maturity
  • Hardworking, motivated
  • Leadership
  • Integrity, character
  • Reaction to setbacks
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Emotionally stable and mature
  • Special skills

I was fortunate to have three such people. My recommendations came from a lecturer I had worked well with, my thesis supervisor, and the discipline convenor (also a one-time boss/supervisor).

The most important aspect of this (other than picking the right people) is organisation – I feel I can speak about this because I wasn’t as organised as I could have been and it created some needless struggles. Again, this is better described in a checklist:

☐ Give notice: speak to the recommender at least three weeks before it is due; they’re busy people and these things take time

☐ Have an information package ready to go: provide your recommender with copies of your personal statement, CV, transcript, the details of the program you are applying to and anything else that may assist their recommendation writing

☐ Emphasise the deadline: avoid confusion and just be clear that it needs to be done by a certain date

☐ Double-check that they are familiar with the online process

Waive your right to read the recommendation – I didn’t because I didn’t understand the process fully. Apparently recommenders, at times, feel uncomfortable writing letter you will see and so admission boards are likely to given them less weight. Just trust that the recommender will say positive things (otherwise, why are they a recommender?)

☐ If the due date is looming and your recommender still hasn’t submitted just give them a gentle reminder – again, they are busy people so give them the benefit of the doubt!

Additional Resources
Dr. M. Dennis Jackson, How to Get the Best Recommendation Letters for Grad School (website)

Letters of Recommendation (Indiana)

Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School: Who Are the Best Sources?

Graduate School Applications: Requesting Recommendation Letters (Purdue)