Dear Niamh,

I’m thinking about graduate school and not sure who would be best to ask for a reference or how I should go about it. Help!

-Roar-ee the Thinker

Dear Thinker,

Recommendation letters are valued by graduate schools and my advice to you is to focus on what you can do to make it easy for your recommender to write a tailored letter that strengthens your application.

First, identify people who know you and your work well as the graduate school wants to learn about you through the recommendation letter. Did you connect with a professor in class or through a research experience on campus? If you have time, you can begin to develop a relationship before you build your application. Visit professors during their office hours to speak with them and let them get to know you and your interest in graduate school.

Second, give your recommender plenty of time to prepare your letter – ideally, provide at least 3-4 weeks notice.

Third, provide as much information as possible, including how you know each other, e.g. the class you took, the grade you got, why you are interested in the graduate program, what you hope to bring to the program, and if applicable, how it supports your career goals. Some recommenders may also ask for your application materials like a resume, personal statement, writing sample, etc. so you will want to make sure those are in good shape. Also, make sure to provide clear details about the submission requirements for their letter.

After you apply and hear back from schools, send your recommender a thank you note and update them on your status.

Learn more about factors to consider when thinking about graduate school on our website or meet with our career counselors in a 30-minute session or in Quick Questions.

-Niamh