Frequently Asked Questions about Letters of Recommendation
- Why are letters of recommendation important in the graduate school application process?
- From whom should I obtain my letters of recommendation?
- How do I get professors to know me?
- How early do I have to ask my professors, bosses, etc. to write my recommendation letters?
- What information do I need to give to the people who are writing my recommendation letters?
- Do I need to follow-up with the people who write my recommendation letters?
Letters of recommendation can be very persuasive to the graduate admissions committee reviewing your application. These letters give them an outside perspective on your strengths, abilities, and accomplishments that may not be easily noticed from your objective data (GRE scores, GPA, etc.). A substantive and cogent letter from a faculty member can often be very helpful in borderline admissions decisions.
Faculty members are great people from whom to obtain letters of recommendation. The faculty members who know you best will naturally be able to write better and more convincing letters than faculty members who only know you as a person who took one of their courses. A good choice may be a professor who taught a small or intense course in which you interacted with that professor regularly. In addition, faculty members with whom you have done research or from whom you have taken a few courses may be strong prospects as well. The more relevant your relationship with the writer is to the field to which you are applying, the more convincing the letter will be to the admissions committee reviewing your application.
Relationships take time to develop, so you should begin getting to know your professors early in your college education. Beginning to form relationships during your freshman year is encouraged and helpful! To get better acquainted with the professors of your classes, attend their office hours. Professors typically enjoy interacting with and answering questions for students. Your interactions with professors during office hours will allow your professors to get to know you and will allow them to write well-developed and insightful letters for you later in your college career.
You should also take advantage of the opportunity to perform research with a faculty member. Most faculty members are delighted to have undergraduate students work as research assistants in their labs. If you are interested in a specific faculty member's research, contact them to ask if you would be able to assist in their research. Through working on a research project with a faculty member, the faculty member will learn about your work ethic and abilities and will, therefore, be able to write a more in-depth letter of recommendation for you.
You should notify the writers of your letters of recommendation at least one month to six weeks before your application deadlines.
- Your contact information
- Your expected graduation date
- Overall GPA (grade point average)
- Your major(s) and, if applicable, your minor(s)
- A copy of your personal statement (most recently updated)
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae
- A list that includes for each requested letter; name of institution, name of specific program, deadline, and method of submission (if hard copy must be sent via US postal service, include contact information). For example:
- The Ohio State University, Master of Arts in Educational Studies - Counselor Education, December 1st, Online Submission
- The Ohio State University, PhD in Clinical Psychology, December 1st, Online Submission
- Note the length of time you have known the faculty member and note the capacity of the relationship (teacher, advisor, mentor, supervisor, etc.)
- Courses taken from the faculty member (include course number, semester, year, and grade)
- Include any other pertinent information you would like highlighted, citing specific examples
Yes, you should certainly follow-up with the people whom you asked to write your letters of recommendation. Within one week of the date that the faculty member or advisor gives you/sends in the letter of recommendation, you should write them a hand-written thank-you note. The faculty member or advisor will appreciate this gesture, and it will demonstrate your appreciation for their help.
In addition, you should also follow-up with the people who wrote your recommendation letters after you have heard back from the schools to which you applied. The faculty members or advisors will wonder what the outcome was of the application process, and you should certainly let them know! You should write them either a personal letter or e-mail explaining whether you were accepted into or denied from the programs to which you applied and also what your expected plans are now that you know the results of the application process. With these two follow-up letters, the faculty members and advisors who wrote your recommendation letters will be delighted and will feel appreciated.