Published: Nov. 16, 2017

Photo of a person writing

Graduate programs typically require two to four letters of recommendation. Be sure to follow the program’s instructions for submitting letters of recommendation. Many schools have an additional form that goes along with the letter, and they may prefer the letters be sent directly to the school.

Ask for a Recommendation

Decide whom you’d like to ask to write a recommendation letter on your behalf. Select someone who knows you well, and who knows about your academic abilities and interests.

A good rule of thumb is to look for someone who knows your academic work (a professor, advisor, current graduate student, or someone in your field of study) and someone who knows you professionally (a supervisor, boss, co-worker, or someone you volunteer for). Seeking out friends, family or political figures is generally discouraged and should only be used as a last resort for a third letter.

Set up a time to meet with your recommender, if possible, so you can ask them in person to write a letter for you. This is particularly helpful for faculty and staff, so they have a chance to speak with you and discuss your graduate plans. Think about why you are interested in graduate school, how well the recommender knows you and what you’d like them to emphasize in their letter. If you are unsure how well the person knows you, or you feel they may not write you a strong letter, you may want to consider finding someone else.

Follow Up

Send a follow-up email to your recommender with all the necessary details. This is an important step, as you can help guide what you’d like emphasized in your letter of recommendation. Include in your email:

  • Details on the programs and due dates (give them at least one month’s notice to write the letter)
  • What you would like them to focus on (academics, work ethic, interest)
  • Unofficial transcript (reminds professors when you took their class, and how you did)
  • Current resume
  • A draft of your statement of purpose
  • Recommendation form
  • Instructions for submitting the letter

PrivateFolio

Career Services has partnered with PrivateFolio to provide file management services for students and alumni. PrivateFolio empowers students to collect, manage, and deliver confidential letters of recommendation. As an online letter of recommendation service, PrivateFolio allows students to solicit, manage, and send confidential letters of recommendation along with other documents and credentials to where they need them to be.

This is a great way to store all your letters and application materials so they can be used at a later time. For example, if you plan to take time off but would like letters of recommendation, now you can use Privatefolio to store generic letters from professors and send them out at a later time.

Get the Best Recommendation!

The best recommendations come from people who know you. It is best to get involved early and make yourself known. Find ways to get involved in class, meet with a professor during office hours, and volunteer to take on projects or research. Looking for activities and departments you are interested in, even student groups provides a great way to get involved and meet the staff.

Thank You Notes

Send a follow-up thank you note to those writing letters for you. This is a great way to thank people for taking the time to write a letter. Send the note a few weeks before the due date to remind them to write the letter!