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Letters of Recommendation

Page history last edited by Laurence José 10 years, 3 months ago

Tips for Securing Graduate School

Letters of Recommendation


Discern who would make the best recommenders for your situation. Starting well ahead of the application deadlines, talk with your professors about the graduate programs they know best. Perhaps a professor is an alumnus of one of the schools to which you’re applying or has a friend who teaches there; these sorts of connections can be to your benefit. In addition, you will want letters from the professors who know your work best and can speak to the following issues: your work ethic, your creative writing aesthetic, your ability to engage in graduate-level work, your career prospects, and your ability to teach or conduct research as part of an assistantship.


Note:  Typically, you should ask a small group of professors—3 is usually the number grad schools want to hear from—to write letters on your behalf. It is not necessary to divvy up the schools among all of your professors. Your recommenders will write one letter and send it (slightly revised) to all of the schools on your list.


Prepare early! Ask faculty who know your work well to write letters well ahead of the time you actually need them. It’s best to make your request via email, phone, or in person a month ahead of when you need the letters. It’s also best to ask whether the professor can write a good letter of recommendation for you before you turn over the recommendation forms to be processed.


Make writing the letters easy for the professor! When asking for a letter of recommendation, remind the professor of your work in his or her class and make clear the sort of graduate programs to which you’re applying (MFA programs in fiction; M.A. programs in technical writing, etc). Provide the professor with:


•    Your resume/vita;

•    A sample (or a few short samples) of your writing—preferably completed in the professor’s course;

•    Your graduate school personal statement or some indication of your plans for graduate school and beyond.


These documents refresh the professor’s memory about your work and provide “evidence” about your particular strengths as a writer, student, and future professional that he or she can cite in the recommendation letters.


Make processing recommendation forms easy for the professor! It’s a good idea to submit all of the grad school recommendation forms to your professor at one time; submitting forms here and there is a sure way to invite confusion—and a missing letter.


Write a letter/memo to your professor that gives an overview of how you need the letters processed:


1.    Where are you applying to graduate school? What are the names of the programs? Why did you choose these programs? What are your ultimate career goals? Are you also applying for teaching or research assistantships? Having this information provides a context for the professor writing the letter.

2.    Fill out the appropriate portion of the recommendation form, usually they ask you for your name and serial number and the program to which you're applying. Make sure you sign the waiver.

3.    Should the professor mail the letters himself/herself, or would you prefer getting the letters back to send with your other application materials?

a.    If the latter, you should probably specify that the professor should seal the recommendation’s envelope and sign his or her name across the sealed flap. (This indicates to the letter’s recipient that you have not read or tampered with the letter).

b.    If you want professors to mail the letters, provide stamped, addressed envelopes to make this process more efficient.

c.    By what date should the letters be returned to you or mailed? Make deadlines for the letters crystal clear!


Keep in touch! Too often, professors write recommendations for students and then don’t hear the final outcome. Faculty love to hear what you’ve decided to do with your life—whether or not it includes graduate study!




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