Letters of reference or recommendation (you will hear them called both) are an essential part of your application for graduate school. Admissions committees read your letters to identify how your background demonstrates promise as a student in their academic field. However, they also look for signs of negative traits or lack of preparation for graduate school.

Whom you choose to write letters for you and how you communicate what you need influences the quality and relevance of your letters. Here are some tips to make sure your letters enhance your application for admission and not take away from it.

  1. Ask people who know you well and are interested in your potential. Ask only professional and academic contacts; do not include irrelevant personal references like a family friend.
  2. Contact potential letter writers well ahead of your application deadline, preferably two months in advance. Tell the writer your deadline.
  3. Do not assume someone will write a letter. Ask for confirmation of their willingness or inability to write a letter for you.
  4. Make writing the letter as convenient for them as possible.
    • Describe the major, degree and university to which you are applying: Is this a thesis or non-thesis program? Is it an on-site, hybrid or distance program?
    • Include a copy of any specific form letters with your request if possible.
    • Provide the writer with an updated resume or C.V., so your current information is readily available.
    • Tell the writer the process for submitting the letter (for example online, email, or postal mail).
  5. Say thank you!

Finally, use your school's application system to verify your letters are submitted.