Reference letter for graduate school: Who do you ask?

Reference letter for graduate school: Who do you ask?


Hi my name is Danine Farquharson and I’m the associate dean of Graduate Studies at Memorial University. One element of
graduate applications that students worry a lot about is the letters of
reference, so let me help. You’re putting together your application packages and
have to get two maybe three letters of reference many students have the same
first question, who do I ask for a letter? The answer is, that you want to ask
professors or researchers who know your work very well. You want to ask people
who have taught you more than one class is ideal or worked with you in an
academic setting. You want to ask professors from classes in which you
have received high grades. Basically you want people who can write about your
intellectual achievement and your potential to succeed in graduate school.
The next question, is how best to ask these people. Bear in mind an important
fact here, faculty and researchers are busy people and they probably want to
help you out but you must give them lots of notice and you must be highly
organized. Make the process of writing you a strong letter easy for them, so
let’s start with what not to do. Hi Danine! How are you?” Would you write
me some letters for grad school? That would be awesome because I loved your
class. Let me know. Okay? Steve. Right, please don’t do that.
Believe me that email is all too common in tone and style and it will never
endear you to the person you’re asking to do something for you. Put simply this
message is not professional, it lacks specifics and it results in the
professor having to ask a bunch of questions that you should have already
answered. So here’s a much better way to ask, Hello Professor Farguharson, This is
Joanna Smith. I took English 3175 with you in the fall of 2016
(I earned a final grade of 85 percent). I’m writing to see if you
would be willing and able to support my graduate school applications with strong
letters of reference that attest to my academic ability and research potential
at the graduate level. I’m applying to four schools and the earliest deadline
for the letters of reference is December 22 2017. If you can do this for me, I
will follow up with a detailed list of the schools and the deadlines and how to
submit each letter. I look forward to hearing from you soon,
Joanna. This one works so much better because you introduce yourself and you
give important information. Even if you know the professor really well always be
professional. This message also says how many letters you need, what the deadlines
are and the kinds of details you need included. Now the faculty member can
answer quickly with either yes I can do this for you or I am sorry I’m unable to
help. Asking for a strong letter with deadlines gives them the option of
saying no. Most professors will agree right away, but if something prevents
them from writing for you do not take it personally. You need people who will
readily agree for whatever reasons, so always have backup possibilities. When
they agree to write you need to follow up immediately with a thank you and
clear directions. The best way to give those directions is in a table like this
one. This is a tidy list with dates and how to complete the letters. This also
indicates what programs you’re applying to and that’s very important for letter
writers so they can tailor their letters to your applications. In your follow-up
email with this kind of table I suggest one more thing. Tell them that you will
check in four working days before each deadline, to make sure all as well and
then do it. It’s okay to remind your letter writers, but do it only once.
Things can happen to delay letters but only you were in control of your
application package. You need to be the one to ensure every piece is in place by
the graduate schools deadline. So to recap. Ask early, be professional, be
precise and you’ll get great letters of reference.

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