While your grades, test scores and experience will weigh the heaviest in admission decisions, a well written recommendation can often be a deciding factor, especially if you have any weak areas. You will typically be asked for 2 or 3 but each university will specify exactly the number they require. A program may provide a recommendation form for your recommenders or simply request a letter.
When deciding who to request letters from you should consider the following:
- A professor in your field who knows you well and can speak to you academic (and possibly research) abilities. It is encouraged that you build relationships with professors early in order for them to report on more than just your grade in a class you took.
- Someone in your field who has supervised you through an internship, field work, job, etc. Preferably this person would have an advanced degree in the field.
- Family, clergy and political recommenders are discouraged. Not only are they less relevant, they can also be detrimental.
- Start thinking about potential recommenders early. Visit professors during office hours, get involved in research or community service projects, have conversations with supervisors about your career goal – you want someone who will know your abilities and career goals and will be excited to talk about you!
- Remember that your recommenders will be busy. We encourage you to start asking senior year with plenty of time before your deadline. This typically means early fall if you plan to attend the following fall. If you have plans to take a year or so off or defer your admission, go ahead and get the letters so that you are fresh on your recommenders mind and they are still accessible to you.
- Schedule an appointment to sit down and talk with them about how your chosen program aligns with your career goals and why you think you are a good candidate. This just may spark their memory about some positive things that can write about you!
- Be sure to provide them with the list of schools you are applying to, instructions for sending the letter, the recommendation form (if required), the deadline for receipt of the letters, your contact information if they should need to reach you, any pertinent information that will help them write an appropriate letter (you might include your personal statement and resume)
- Remember that this is voluntary for them. If you notice that the person you requested seems hesitant then move on to an alternate. You do not want to run the risk of them writing a poor recommendation.
- Check out Interfolio – a credential management service – for an easy way to manage your letters of recommendation.