Application Pro-Tip

Application Pro-Tip: Get Recommended

Letters of recommendation are a powerful tool in holistic admissions review. They can provide the committee an extra vote of confidence in an applicant’s qualifications and shed light on factors that might have gone unmentioned elsewhere in your application. Candidates often feel it is a privilege to receive a recommendation letter from a person they admire, but don’t fully understand the responsibility bestowed upon this individual to produce a sound assessment. Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for selecting your recommendation authors.


  • Select a reference solely for their title or status. If you haven’t had direct interaction with an individual, their ability to adequately address your candidacy will be limited. It is more beneficial to have a thorough, insightful letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well in an academic or professional setting than a superficial recommendation — or, even worse, a form letter — from someone in a more senior position.
  • Select personal character references such as family members, friends, or others who know you exclusively or primarily outside of an academic or professional context. Those who have observed your recent performance on the job or in an educational setting are best equipped to provide perspective on your strengths and potential.


  • Request recommendations in advance. It is a good professional practice to ask your potential references if they would be willing to provide a letter of recommendation before sending a request via the application form. This avoids surprising them, which can result in less-enthusiastic letters or delayed responses.
  • Allow ample time for your references to complete their recommendations. If they are entering a busy period professionally or personally, they might not get to your recommendation letter right away. Ask in advance whether they will have time to complete your letter by a certain date, and have a backup plan just in case.
  • Ensure your references have the resources they need. Providing them documents such as your resume, transcript, or even a draft of your personal statement can help them produce an informed letter. If they are not familiar with your professional goals, consider talking through your objectives with them so they have a better understanding of your rationale for pursuing graduate study.