How to Secure A Strong Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

Securing a strong letter of recommendation can make or break your graduate school application. These letters provide an outside perspective on your abilities, achievements, and potential, making them a vital part of the admission process. 

The Role of a Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation is a written endorsement from someone who knows you well in an academic or professional context. Its purpose is to vouch for your skills, character, and readiness for graduate studies, offering insights that your grades and test scores cannot.

These letters can significantly impact your application, providing a personal touch and a detailed assessment of your qualifications. A compelling recommendation can distinguish you from other candidates, highlighting your unique strengths and experiences.

Choose the Right Recommenders

Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your abilities and achievements. Ideal candidates include professors, research supervisors, and professional mentors who have a positive view of your work and character.

Strong professional relationships are built over time. Before you even consider applying for graduate school, you should always engage with potential recommenders through meaningful interactions, such as participating in their classes, research projects, or professional collaborations.

Having a mix of academic and professional recommenders can provide a well-rounded perspective on your abilities. Academic recommenders can highlight your scholarly potential, while professional recommenders can speak to your practical skills and work ethic.

Build Strong Relationships with Potential Recommenders

Start building relationships early by attending office hours, engaging in discussions, and showing genuine interest in their work. Networking is about establishing trust and demonstrating your commitment to your field.

Keep in regular contact with potential recommenders, updating them on your progress and achievements. Professional communication shows that you value their mentorship and are serious about your academic and career goals.

Participate in research projects, internships, or other collaborative efforts with your recommenders. These experiences allow them to observe your skills and dedication firsthand, providing a solid foundation for their recommendation.

The Big Ask

Request letters of recommendation well in advance of application deadlines. Giving your recommenders ample time—typically at least two months—ensures they can write a thoughtful and detailed letter. Respect your recommenders’ time by providing them with a clear deadline and any relevant details they need to include in the letter. Early and clear communication helps them plan and avoid last-minute rushes.

Approach your recommenders politely and professionally, explaining why you value their endorsement and how it will support your application. Be clear about the specifics, such as the program you’re applying to and why it’s a good fit for you. Include key information in your request, such as your resume, personal statement, and any specific points you’d like them to address. Providing context helps them write a more personalized and relevant letter.

Sample Request Email

Here’s a sample email to help you get started:

Subject: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Dear [Recommender’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for my graduate school application. I have greatly valued your guidance and mentorship during my time at [Your Institution/Company], and I believe your insights would be invaluable to my application.

I am applying to [Program Name] at [University Name], and I feel that your recommendation would greatly enhance my chances of being accepted. I have attached my resume and personal statement for your reference.

Thank you for considering my request. Please let me know if you need any additional information.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

Provide Relevant Information to Your Recommenders

Share details about your academic performance, including relevant coursework, research, and honors. Highlighting your achievements helps your recommender provide specific examples of your capabilities.

Describe your professional experiences, such as internships, jobs, and projects. Focus on skills and accomplishments that are relevant to your graduate studies. Inform your recommenders about your personal attributes, such as leadership, teamwork, and perseverance. Also, share your long-term goals and how the graduate program aligns with them.

Provide a detailed resume or CV that outlines your academic and professional journey. This document serves as a reference for your recommender to accurately portray your achievements.

Share your personal statement or statement of purpose. This document helps your recommender understand your motivations and how you plan to use the graduate program to achieve your goals.

Give your recommenders details about the programs you’re applying to, including specific requirements and what they are looking for in candidates. This information allows them to tailor their letter to highlight the most relevant qualities.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up!

Politely remind your recommenders about upcoming deadlines as the date approaches. A gentle reminder ensures they submit the letter on time without feeling pressured. After they have submitted, always thank your recommenders for their time and effort. A heartfelt thank-you note shows your appreciation and maintains a positive relationship for future interactions.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Pitfalls in Choosing Recommenders

Avoid choosing recommenders who do not know you well or cannot speak to your strengths. Ensure your recommenders have a positive and informed view of your abilities.

Errors in Requesting Letters

Do not wait until the last minute to request letters or provide incomplete information. Clear communication and ample notice are key to securing strong recommendations.

Providing Insufficient Information

Give your recommenders all the necessary information to write a detailed letter. Insufficient information can lead to a generic or less impactful recommendation.


  • How many letters of recommendation do I need for graduate school? Most graduate programs require two to three letters of recommendation. Check the specific requirements of each program you are applying to.
  • Can I submit a letter of recommendation from a personal contact? While it’s best to submit letters from academic or professional contacts, some programs may accept a personal contact if they can speak to your relevant skills and experiences.
  • What should I do if a recommender misses the deadline? Follow up politely with your recommender to remind them of the deadline. If they cannot submit the letter, quickly find an alternative recommender.
  • How do I know if my recommendation letters are strong enough? Strong recommendation letters are detailed, specific, and provide a clear endorsement of your abilities. You can gauge their strength by the recommender’s willingness to support you and their familiarity with your work.
  • Can I read my letters of recommendation before they are sent? Most programs give you the option to waive your right to read the letters, which you should always choose to do because it will make them more credible to admissions committees. However, that does not mean your recommenders won’t allow you to read the letters before they submit them on the platform. 

Securing a strong letter of recommendation requires careful planning, clear communication, and professional relationships. By following these steps, you can enhance your graduate school application and stand out to admissions committees. Remember, the effort you put into securing these letters reflects your commitment to your future studies.