If you want to accelerate your career and earning potential, a master’s degree may help you achieve your goals. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that the median salary for those with master’s degrees is about 17% higher than the median earnings for those with bachelor’s degrees.
However, graduate school is increasingly difficult to get into as universities receive more applications. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, the number of applications for master’s programs increased by 9.6% between fall 2019 and fall 2020, the last available data.
Universities often require letters of recommendation as part of the admissions process, but a strong letter of recommendation can be a valuable asset and help you stand out from other applicants. This guide will show you everything you need to know about requesting, writing, and using letters of recommendation for graduate school.
Who Can Write Your Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School?
During the application process, universities will often ask for one to three letters of recommendation. When deciding who to ask for a letter of recommendation, keep in mind that the individuals should meet the following criteria:
- You should have known them for a significant amount of time: In general, your letter of recommendation should come from someone you’ve known for a year or more. The longer you have known someone, the more likely they will be able to speak to your character and abilities.
- They can speak to your specific strengths: Ideally, this person would be able to speak to your strengths as they relate to the graduate program you are applying for, and can share specific examples of your academic or professional achievements.
- They can communicate effectively in writing: Some people can speak glowingly of others in conversation, but may struggle to convey their experiences in written form. When considering your options, look for someone that can articulate their thoughts clearly and write in a way that is easy for others to understand.
- They shouldn’t be a family member or close friend: While you may naturally think of friends or family members, they may not be a good option. While they may know you well, they may not be an objective judge of your abilities the way a professor or employer would be.
Some schools will specify that letters need to come from former professors or managers, while others allow more flexibility. If you are able to choose who to ask, the following individuals may be able to help:
- College counselors
- Research supervisors
- Internship managers
- Employment managers
- Faculty mentors
- Work mentors
- Volunteer supervisors
When to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School
In general, it’s wise to give your letter writers at least four to six weeks before the deadline so they can write a well-thought-out letter on your behalf. Giving them that much time also allows them to check their schedules and see if they will be available to write the letter.
Each year, over 2 million applications are submitted for graduate school. With so many people applying, professors and other faculty members often field multiple requests for letters of recommendation. That’s why it’s important to give them as much time as possible before your letter is needed.
Most schools will have a deadline for when letters of recommendation need to be submitted. If you wait until the last minute to ask for a letter of recommendation, your letter writer may not have enough time to write a strong letter on your behalf.
Additionally, it’s important to be aware of the letter writer’s schedule. If you know they will be busy with midterms, finals or a major project at work, it may not be the best time to ask for a letter. Instead, try to find a time when they have a lighter workload and can devote more attention to writing your letter.
How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School
Once you’ve identified who you want to ask, it’s time to reach out and request a letter of recommendation. The best way to do this is in person or over the phone because it’s more personal and allows for a natural dialogue about your goals and aspirations. It also shows that you value their opinion and are willing to take the time to speak with them about your graduate school plans.
However, talking in person or over the phone isn’t always possible with busy schedules, so it’s acceptable to send an email request too depending on your personal relationship.
Sample Request for In Person
Here is an example of what you could say when asking for a letter of recommendation in person:
“Hi, Professor Smith. As you may know, I’m planning on attending graduate school in the fall so I can earn my MBA. I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools, and because I was in several of your classes and you mentored me, I was hoping you’d feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me.”
Sample Request via Phone
If you are requesting a letter of recommendation over the phone, you can use this script as a model:
“Hi, Professor Smith. This is Jane Doe; I took your class on economics last semester. As you may know, I’m planning on attending graduate school in the fall so I can earn my MBA. I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools, and because I was in several of your classes and you mentored me, I was hoping you’d feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me.”
Sample Request Via Email
You can use the below script to email a request for a letter of recommendation:
I hope this email finds you well! I was in your class on economics last semester. Because of that class and your research, I’ve decided I want to pursue a career in business, and I’m planning on attending graduate school in the fall so I can earn my MBA. I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools, and because I was in several of your classes and you mentored me, I was hoping you’d feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me.”
[Important: Not everyone will agree to write a letter of recommendation. While that may be disappointing, thank them for their time and candor. It’s better to know they won’t be able to upfront than to get a rushed or lukewarm letter.]
What Should a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School Include
If the person responds positively to your request, you can offer to send them some information about the program you’re applying to, your recent academic or professional achievements, and highlights about your professional goals. The following details can be helpful to the letter writer:
- The name of the school and the program: By giving your letter writer information about the schools and programs you’re applying to, they can see what requirements the school has and the program’s focus.
- The application deadline: Giving your letter writer a heads up about the deadline allows them to allot enough time to write the letter and submit it to the university.
- A copy of resume or CV: Your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) will give the letter writer an overview of your education, work experience, and research interests.
- A list of recent academic or professional achievements: If you’ve recently won an industry or company award, completed a research project, or been published by an academic journal, your letter writer will want to know so they can include it in the letter.
- Samples of your work: If you have any writing samples, research proposals, or presentations from your previous coursework or employment, you can share them with your letter writer to give them a sense of your interests and abilities.
- Your contact information: Make sure you share your contact information, including your phone number and email address.
- Submission instructions: Include information on how the letter writer should submit the letter of recommendation. Some schools require letter writers to upload them online, while others may prefer to receive it by mail or email.
How to Follow up on a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School
After someone has agreed to write a letter of recommendation for you, it’s normal to be anxious, and you may feel the urge to check in on its status. However, it’s important to give the person the time they need to write a meaningful letter while balancing their time with other commitments.
In general, you shouldn’t follow up until three or four weeks have gone by without hearing from them or receiving a confirmation that a letter of recommendation was submitted.
If you do follow up in person or via email, remain professional and courteous. Remind the individual about the program’s deadline, and ask if they need any additional information from you. Thank them for their time, and let them know you understand if they’re unable to write a letter of recommendation.
Applying to Graduate School
If you’re planning on going to graduate school, the application process can seem overwhelming. And selecting people to ask for letters of recommendation can be stress-inducing. The important thing is to remember that everyone goes through this process, and it’s normal to feel a little anxious.
Starting early can help you manage your stress, and making a list of several potential letter writers will ensure you have a backup in case someone declines or cannot complete the letter by the university’s deadline.
FAQs About Graduate School Letters of Recommendation
What should a graduate school letter of recommendation include?
A letter of recommendation for a graduate school applicant should include information about the letter writer’s relationship to the applicant, the applicant’s academic or professional achievements, and highlights about the applicant’s professional goals. A standout letter of recommendation will include specific examples and details about the applicant’s character and skills.
How many letters of recommendation should I ask for?
Graduate school programs usually ask for one to three letters of recommendation. It’s a good idea to make a longer list of prospective letter writers, in case someone is unable to write a letter or you don’t receive a letter by the program’s deadline.
Who should write a letter of recommendation for graduate school?
When it comes to letters of recommendation for graduate school, you should ask professors, employers, or other professionals who can speak to your academic achievements and abilities. If you don’t have any professional experience, you can also ask other mentors or supervisors, such as a director of a non-profit organization that you volunteered with, to speak to your experience and achievements.
Can employers write letters of recommendation for grad school?
Yes, employers can write letters of recommendation for graduate school. In fact, many graduate programs prefer letters from employers because they can speak to your professional achievements and abilities in the workplace.
What should I send my letter writers to help them write a strong letter?
To help your letter writers craft a strong recommendation, you should send them a copy of your resume, a personal statement, and any other information about your experiences and accomplishments that you think would be helpful. You should also provide them with the contact information for the graduate program and the deadline for the letter’s submission.
How do I follow up on my letter of recommendation requests?
If you haven’t heard back from the letter writer after they agreed to write a recommendation, you can follow up with them in person or via email. Make sure to give them enough time to write the letter, and only follow up if more than a few weeks have passed since you made the request.
How long should my letter of recommendation be?
There is no set length for a letter of recommendation, but most letters are between one and two pages. The letter should be long enough to show that the letter writer knows you well, has personal experience with you academically or professionally, and conveys that they think highly of you and your abilities.
How do I write a letter of recommendations for a master’s student?
If you aren’t a student but are asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone applying to graduate school, you should start by researching the program and requirements. Make sure you understand what the letter should include, and only agree to write the letter if you feel confident that you can write a positive and detailed letter.
When writing the letter, focus on the student’s achievements, skills, and goals. Use specific examples to illustrate your points, and make sure to edit the letter carefully before sending it off.