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Upon application, most graduate programs require students to provide several recommendation letters. All this with the purpose of illustrating others’ experiences with you and getting their perspective of your work and character. 


Typically, each school gives specific instructions on what the recommendation letters should address, the number and type of references as well. Here, we seek to offer some insight on what a grad recommendation letter is, what to include, the tone of voice to use, and who & how to ask.

What Is a Recommendation Letter?

An academic program may require a letter of recommendation, which should be sent by a professor or employer directly to the university. The document should be 300-400 words long and objectively describe your character, accomplishments, and abilities.


Often, recommendation letters and reference letters are used interchangeably, which causes confusion in differentiating the two. However, a recommendation letter is personal and should speak of you concerning the specific program or scholarship. On the other hand, reference letters serve more as a general endorsement of your professional work.


Usually, the recommendation letter is meant to accompany other documents of your academic qualifications, skills, and other accomplishments. In other words, the recommendation letter adds personality to your application.

What does a recommendation letter include?

A well-structured recommendation letter will help the reader understand why the candidate is worthy of admission to a  graduate school. Since you’re applying to grad school, it is important to focus on both your academic achievements and your character and potential to thrive in a challenging academic environment.


Firstly, the recommender should include information on their status or title and their relationship with the student. Furthermore, they need to discuss the student’s characteristics, qualities, traits, accomplishments, how the student improved over time, and what makes them qualified for the particular graduate program.  


If you have to provide more than one recommendation letter, it would be wiser to choose recommenders who are able to write about varied aspects of your personality, achievements, and academic potential.

What tone is expected in a recommendation letter?

A letter of recommendation is less formal than academic writing, however, admission representatives appreciate it when recommendations are personalized. Still, the tone of voice should reflect the author’s educational level and qualifications and be free of grammatical or technical errors.

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

Many graduate school programs require several letters of recommendation, and the people you choose to write them will play a massive role in your admission decision. Regardless of who it is, the recommender should know the candidate and be familiar with their accomplishments. Your recommender should have a clear idea of what program the letter is for, the expectations, and a general timeline.


When it comes to asking the right people a recommendation letter, it is crucial that they are people who are acquainted with you and who hold positions in school or work that are above your own, such as:


  • A professor who specializes in the same field as the degree you’re applying for.
  • Alumni.
  • A supervisor who can provide relevant info for that program and who’s related to it.

How to Ask for a Graduate School Reference

When it comes to requesting a letter of recommendation, the best approach is to ask in person. If you are unable to ask in person, you can still do it via email. Make sure to give them ample time to write a detailed and powerful letter for you. A few weeks’ notice is best. 


Seeing how writing a letter of recommendation is a big favor, and it takes the personal time of the recommender, be sure that you approach asking from a respectful, formal, and grateful place. When you ask, you want to express your appreciation and respect for the person’s time. Furthermore, make it clear that you are available to assist the individual in writing your recommendation in any way you can.

What information do you need to provide to the recommender?

The most credible recommenders will need to be able to back up their claims with a lot of information. You can assist them in accomplishing this by providing some of this information in your request:


  • Classes you have taken with the recommender
  • Experiences you have shared
  • Transcripts
  • Resume or CV
  • Research experience and internships
  • Awards and achievements
  • Academic and career goals


In addition to background information, make sure the recommender has all of the information needed to organize the writing in a timely manner and on what to target in the letter as much as possible. Be sure to provide:


  • Graduate program application due date
  • Copies of recommendation forms (if applicable)
  • Details about the program and school you’re applying to
  • The deadline for submitting their letters
  • Instructions on how to submit the letters

Final Advice

It is essential to thank your professors for their assistance. Don’t hesitate to express gratitude to your lecturers for their assistance. You can send a handwritten thank you card to the recommenders once you’ve filed your application. Although a thank you email would suffice, a handwritten note is always appreciated.



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