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Graduate Journey Resource Center

Discover valuable resources to assist you in your program search and decision-making process.

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Why Letters of Recommendation are so Important for Grad School

Along with a strong personal statement, letters of recommendation are crucial to the success of your application process. They are important pieces of the puzzle that help to create a full picture of who you are as a candidate, a student and a person.

Choosing writers

Unlike your personal statement, you have to rely on others to write your letters of recommendation. Consider potential letter writers carefully. The people you choose must:

  • have the time to write a letter for you
  • know you well and have perspective to comment about you as a student, professional and person of integrity
  • be able to speak about your experience as it would relate to pursuing the degree you’re applying to (i.e., research experience, work experience, academic performance, etc.)
  • include something about you as a person (i.e., how it is to work with you, how well you work with others, etc.).
  • be familiar with the program(s) you’re applying to
  • be able to describe qualities about you that will make you stand out amongst other candidates

How and when to ask

The types of people you should consider asking are professors, mentors and employers, but remember that asking has its dos and don’ts as well. It’s not considered good form to just ask randomly at the end of class, or during the workday. Schedule an appointment with the person you want to ask and go over the details of the programs you’re applying to and their expectations. Include your CV, essays, personal statements and any other information that may be helpful to the person writing a letter on your behalf.

What’s the timeline?

Since most of the people you’ll be requesting a letter from are undoubtedly busy, it’s very important that you give them enough time to write the letter for you. A month is usually a good reference to go by. Don’t ask anyone at the last minute. It’s inconsiderate of their time and a bad reflection of your time management skills. It’s important to manage your plans on whom and when to ask for letters of recommendation.


The subject of confidentiality must also be considered. This determines whether you can read the recommendation letter written on your behalf before it is sent out. A confidential letter is submitted without your review. You should note that letters submitted in confidence are preferred by universities, as well as the people you’re imposing upon to write them because they add an objective element to the process that reflects a truer picture of the candidate.

Using samples and templates

It’s helpful to review samples and templates of letters of recommendation for your own benefit and also to share with those whom you ask to write on your behalf.