Most graduate and professional programs require three letters of recommendation. Letters should be written by people who can comment on your experience and abilities relevant to graduate study in your chosen field. Professional schools often look for letters from employers and instructors. It’s best to have some letters from professors in your major. The strongest references grow out of established relationships, so visit your professors’ office hours and take small classes.
These letters should be as personalized as possible; this is more important than the rank of the instructors writing the letters. It is better to have a strong letter from a junior faculty member or a graduate student teaching assistant who knows you well than a weak letter from a prestigious professor.
Content of Your Letters
The materials you give your letter writers should help them address the field and programs you have chosen. Include a copy of your statement of purpose, relevant class and employer evaluations, papers you’ve written for the letter writer’s class, your resume, and any other relevant materials. Provide an outline of points you would like the letter to include.
You can request letters to support a weaker part of your application. If you do poorly on the GRE verbal test, an instructor can praise your verbal abilities. Letter writers should be reminded of any special request.
When to Request Letters
Many students worry that their instructors will not remember them if they ask for letters of recommendation after graduation. It’s common practice to reconnect with professors to request letters of recommendation. Reintroduce yourself and provide your instructors with materials that remind them of your merits. Consider the advantages of each approach: while getting letters during your senior year ensures your instructor remembers you, asking for them later allows you to ask for letters customized for the programs to which you’re applying.
Waiving your Right to Read
Discuss whether to waive your right to see letters of reference with your letter writers. Some graduate admissions committees prefer waived letters, feeling they have more credibility while others give equal credibility to all letters.