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Letters of Recommendation for Grad School – 3 Things to Keep in Mind

liberal arts degree
Ryan Kelly
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Published on October 8, 2014

If you’re applying to grad school, you’ve probably noticed that there is quite a bit required of you besides just your application.  One universal prerequisite, of course, are letters of recommendation.  These letters are incredibly valuable, and can absolutely help you to stand out against fellow applicants.  If you are in need of recommendations, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Get out there and ask.

You can never ask a recommender too early.  Even if the application isn’t due for a few more months, it is best to get in touch with these people as soon as you can.  Do not be foolish and think you are the only person asking this recommender for a letter, because they likely will be asked by dozens and dozens of other students come application time.  For this reason, you’ll need to get to the recommender early to ensure you get a spot on his or hers list of letters to write.

Just because you need three letters per school doesn’t mean you will only have to ask three people.

Like I said, recommenders, especially professors, will be swamped with letters by October.  Since many schools have different requirements and formats for each recommendation letter, asking a professor to write a letter for the ten grad schools to which you are applying will probably be out of the question due to time constraints.  Some professors may inform you that they will only be able to write letters for one or two schools, and if you are applying to more schools than that, you will need to be prepared to ask other potential recommenders.  Have a backup plan, and do not assume the three people you want to write your letters will have the time to write one for every school.

Ask the best possible people.

There is nothing wrong with asking your boss from your internship about writing a recommendation letter.  Just keep in mind the type of things they would write.  “He worked well with others”, “He completed all his work on time”, “He had a great attitude and work ethic”- while all of these things are positive points and worth mentioning in a recommendation, would someone else be able to provide more salient reviews?  For example, if you’re going for a degree in Biology, maybe a professor who can speak to both your academic and laboratory proficiencies would make for a stronger recommendation than a previous employer.  As someone who is currently applying to grad schools, I can tell you know that the majority of schools are looking for recommendation letters of primarily academic nature.

Ryan Kelly

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