5 Steps to Your Best Grad School Recommendations

Learn how to obtain strong recommendation letters that can help you rise above others with similar scores or backgrounds.

A recommendation is one of the more important parts of your grad school application. First-time enrollment in grad school is competitive and continues to be fierce. A ten-year long higher education study shows that the general application trend is rising. 2 million people applied to grad school in the U.S. last year.

You need to stand out. One way to do that is to let others make the case for you.  A strong recommendation letter can be a powerful component of your application and help you rise above others with similar scores or backgrounds. Below are five tips to getting them into your application.

  1. Hit the Books

    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. Put in Face 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. Raise Your Hand

    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. Seek Their Help

    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. Remember to Be Respectful

    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.

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.