Recommendation letters are becoming an increasingly important component of graduate school applications. Applicants often have stellar GPAs, test scores, and extracurricular activities, making it difficult for admissions committees to differentiate between them. Letters of recommendation offer a unique opportunity for outstanding applicants to shine, by providing additional insight into their character and capabilities from experienced and trusted professionals.
Who to Ask
When deliberating on who to ask for a letter of recommendation, consider professors or supervisors who can speak to your strengths (academic background, knowledge, skills, or character traits). Did you regularly attend office hours for a particular class or work in an undergraduate research laboratory? Even if you did not work directly with a research mentor, it’s worth asking them for a letter. Research professors (or “Principal Investigators”) will often ask their post-doctoral trainees and graduate students for additional feedback regarding your performance, making their letters both specific and personal.
How and When to Ask
While asking for letters of recommendation can be uncomfortable for applicants, writing them is a common responsibility for professors and supervisors. That is to say, don’t worry about it! Be direct, professional, and courteous in your email. The most common and biggest mistake applicants make with letters of recommendation is asking for them too late. This can be perceived as unprofessional, and may suggest that the applicant is irresponsible and disorganized. Instead, ask for letters 2-3 months prior to the deadline (the earlier the better). This allows recommenders plenty of time and flexibility to write the best possible letter.
Important Information to Include
After a recommender agrees to write a letter on your behalf, respond with the following pieces of information in an organized package: CV, Transcript, Personal Statement and/or Statement of Purpose, and Deadlines (click on the hyperlinks for advice regarding these pieces of your application). Do not forget to include detailed instructions on how to submit the letter, which varies based on program and institution. You may suggest your willingness to meet (now virtually due to the pandemic), but communicate that it is not necessary, as you recognize the time-commitment involved with writing a thorough letter. Ask if there is any additional information that would be helpful for them and then thank them again for their time. The key is to anticipate their needs and simplify this process as much as possible for them.Still feeling stressed about your letters of recommendation? The Art of Applying is here to help. Our experienced team of consultants have trained at the top academic institutions in the world and more importantly, are dedicated to your success. To learn more about how we can help, click here to schedule your free 15-minute Quick Call with one of our consultants.