Tips for Getting Good Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School

by on December 31st, 2010
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If you are planning on embarking on the arduous journey of going to graduate school, there are a few steps you will have to take. In addition to taking the dreaded GRE, you are going to be required to submit several letters of recommendation along with your graduate school application. Upon first glance, this may seem like an easy part of the application process. However, keep in mind that many professors do not hand out letters of recommendation to just anyone, so in order to secure one of these prized letters, you’re going to have to work for it. Here are some tips for landing good letters of recommendation:

Start Early

If you already know early in your undergraduate career that you are going to graduate school after you get your bachelor’s degree, you have an advantage to getting great letters of recommendation. Do some research on the schools you are considering. What requirements do they have? What is their acceptance rate? What program will you most likely choose? The answers to these questions will determine what steps you will take. If the program you desire is prestigious with a low acceptance rate, you’ll need to stake out the best professors in your department and take as many of their classes throughout your undergraduate years as you can. Take some of their classes as a sophomore and if possible, some as a senior, so you are fresh in their memory.

Dress to Impress

It goes without saying that when you determine which professors you would like to ask letters of recommendation of, you’ll want to impress them to the best of your ability. This means never missing class (without good reason), dressing nicely, completing all of your work, and most importantly, impressing them with your knowledge and interest in their field. Be familiar with your professor’s publications, theories, and contributions to your field. If you are planning on staying at the same university for graduate school, your efforts could score you a coveted spot as a graduate assistant, or grants and scholarships for graduate school.

Letters of Recommendation Rules of Etiquette

When it comes close to the time of filling out your graduate school application, request a meeting with the professors you are going to ask to write letters of recommendation. Do not just show up to their class and ask them for a letter of recommendation- especially in front of other students. This is a ritual that is reserved for the very best students so do not take it too lightly. Request a conference, and come prepared with your qualifications and schools of interest. Also, give your professors plenty of time to write and submit the letters of recommendation. Do not wait until the last minute to request letters of recommendation. It is also best if you let the professor mail the letter of recommendation themselves, rather than you submitting it. Some graduate schools list this as a requirement for letters of recommendation anyway. This eliminates any pressure on the professor to write a favorable letter of recommendation merely because you will see it.

Acquiring good letters of recommendation is one of the most stressful aspects of applying to graduate school. These letters of recommendation are weighted heavily in the eyes of potential graduate schools so they can make you or break you. Take them seriously and have a game plan so you can get the best letters of recommendation. With a little planning and hard work, you’ll be accepted to the graduate school of your dreams.


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