5 Tips on Great Grad School Recommendations

How to recognize the right recommenders.

Grad School applications have risen in record numbers in the past few years.  A higher education study conducted from 2004-2014 showed a rise in enrollment by over 150,000 students. Last year, over 2 million people applied to grad school in the US.

There is no wonder why. Applying to grad school brings excellent opportunity for professional and personal advancement. However, in this competitive climate—differentiation is key. One important way to stand out is through fantastic teacher recommendations.

Below are five tips to getting them into your application.

1. Get Good Grades

Of course, you need to get the best possible undergraduate GPA in order to apply to grad school. However, you also need to focus even more on getting a high grade in the coursework or subject area that you want to study in grad school. Moreover, when you are seeking recommendations, make sure to do it from professors who have seen your demonstrated academic achievement.  

2. Invest Your Time

Go to office hours. Set meetings and coffee discussions. Stay after class to ask questions. Of course, none of this is a substitute for attending and participating in class. The more connected you are with a professor and their course material, the better they are able to advocate for your specific academic abilities.

3. Ask for Help In Class

Don’t worry if you initial have a hard time in a key undergrad course. Some of the best recommendations letters were written by profs who worked with a struggling student to improve and soon master an area. These trajectories are just as, if not sometimes more compelling, than a letter that is all raves. However, you must ask for help and do extra work needed to improve.

4. Ask for Help Outside of Class

Ask for their advice. They’ve already done what you want to do. Make your grad school plans known to them early. Ask them about their own grad school experiences. Invite them to guide you or ask for any suggestions to follow based on their academic path. The more effort they invest and the more interest they have in your process, the better, more thoughtful recommendation you are likely to receive.

5. Support Your Supporter

Request your academic recommendations formally and early in the semester; give them plenty of time to write. Let your professors know when all application deadlines are and what date you would need the recommendation submitted <IF they agreed to write on your behalf.

Once a teacher agrees to write a letter of recommendation for grad school:

Provide context for them. Tell them when you took their course, why you enjoyed it, your grades in their course, and why you are applying to graduate school—even if you think they already know.

Ask them in-person if possible and then follow up with an email, or asking over email is fine if you are no longer near campus. Remember to tell them for what purpose you ultimately hope to use the degree.

Once they agree to write for you, send them a second comprehensive email with any links, information, and deadlines. Be sure to check on them politely as the deadline nears.

Don’t forget to have back-up recommenders
in case something prevents the top choice from writing. If you follow these tips you are sure to have the best recommendations possible. That will put you one step closer to grad school admission.

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