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The Ask:  Securing Your Grad School Letters of Recommendation

Posted By Admin in Education


As this Atlantic article points out, sometimes brutally, instructors don’t love writing letters of recommendation in most cases. If you are planning to go to graduate school soon,  this fact is pertinent and relevant to you for a couple of reasons:     

A.  You need letters of recommendation from these instructors who don’t like writing letters of recommendation.

B.  Ideally, you need letters of recommendation that describe you in glowing terms from these instructors...who don’t like writing letters of recommendation.

What’s a student to do? We’ve come up with a few tips to ensure that your ask is received in the best possible way:

*Be Timely:  Having written my fair share of letters of recommendation, I can tell you that when a student asks me to write for them and then tells me the due date is in three days, the letter just won’t be my best work. I mean, how well would you be able to carve out the time in your busy life to write a glowing masterpiece in three day? Give your writers, at the minimum, a month to complete the letters.

*Be Courteous:  Sure, it is part of a teacher’s job to write letters of recommendation, but behaving as if you are entitled to a letter or coming off as demanding will be off-putting to the person who you hope will say nice things about you. 

If you are asking via email, here is a very quick sketch of a polite way to ask:

Dear Professor LoveYerWerk,

As you know, I am applying to graduate school next year.  I know this is a very busy time of the semester/year/quarter, but I wonder if you would be willing to write of a letter of recommendation for me.  I enjoyed your seminar on “_________” and the work that I did in your class really helped me to clarify my future goals.  If you are able to write a letter for me, I can send you my personal statement, my resume, and any other information that you think would be helpful. Thanks so much and I look forward to talking with you soon.


Polite Q. Courteous

*Be Informative:  In the best of cases, you will be asking a professor to write for you who knows you and your work well.  But, in reality, this is not always possible.  Perhaps you went to a large school where it was difficult to get to know faculty, or perhaps college has been in the rearview mirror for a while now and you fear your instructor will not remember you.  The best thing you can do in this situation is to be upfront about this fact when you ask.  Here is an example:

Dear Professor Itsbeenawhile,

I had the opportunity to take your course “Totally Insane Italian Poets” in the fall of 2009.  I’m not sure if you remember me, since it has been a while, but I very much enjoyed your class and enjoyed working on the final paper I wrote for it which was on __________.  In fact, many of the ideas from that class have contributed to my desire to apply to graduate school, which I am doing now. 

I wonder if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me to MA/PhD/law school?  I would be happy to send you any material that you think would be helpful and look forward to filling you in on what I have been up to for the past few years.


The Girl From the Fifth Row

Need more advice?  Stumped on who would make the best recommender?  Terrified to hit send because you fear rejection?  We can help!  Let’s talk.

Jamie Oldham is a college admissions coach for Just Start Applications, and a pretty great gal, too. While her interests are varied (she does have a higher degree in Liberal Arts, after all), one of her great life's passions is helping students and parents through the admissions process, doling out great college and graduate school admissions tips along the way. Check out her full bio here and contact us today to get her on your team.

The Ask:  Securing Your Grad School Letters of Recommendation

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