Letters of Recommendation
Why are letters of recommendation important in the graduate school application process?Letters of recommendation can be very persuasive to the graduate admissions committee reviewing your application. These letters give them an outside perspective on your strengths, abilities and accomplishments that may not be easily noticed from your objective data (GRE scores, GPA, etc.). A substantive and cogent letter from a faculty member can often be very helpful in borderline admissions decisions.
From whom should I obtain my letters of recommendation?Faculty members are great people from whom to obtain letters of recommendation. The faculty members who know you best will naturally be able to write better and more convincing letters than faculty members who only know you as a person who took one of their courses. A good choice may be a professor who taught a small or intense course in which you interacted with that professor regularly. In addition, faculty members with whom you have done research or from whom you have taken a few courses may be strong prospects, as well. The more relevant your relationship with the writer is to the field to which you are applying, the more convincing the letter will be to the admissions committee reviewing your application.
How do I get professors to know me?Relationships take time to develop, so you should begin getting to know your professors early in your college education. Beginning to form relationships during your freshman year is encouraged and helpful! To get to know the professors of your classes, attend their office hours. Professors typically enjoy interacting with and answering questions for students. Your interactions with professors during office hours will allow your professors to get to know you and will allow them to write well-developed and insightful letters for you later in your college career. You should also take advantage of the opportunity to perform research with a faculty member. Most faculty members are delighted to have undergraduate students work as research assistants in their labs. If you are interested in a specific faculty member's research, contact him/her to ask if you would be able to assist him/her in their research. Through working on a research project with a faculty member, the faculty member will learn about your work ethic and abilities and will, therefore, be able to write a more in-depth letter of recommendation for you.
How early do I have to ask my professors, bosses, etc. to write my letter of recommendation?You should notify the writers of your letters of recommendation at least one month to six weeks before you plan to send in your complete application.
What information do I need to give to the people who are writing my recommendation letters?In order to aid the people whom you have chosen to write your recommendation letters, you should provide them with the following information:
Note the length of time you have known the faculty member and note the capacity of the relationship (teacher, advisor, mentor, supervisor, etc.)
Your expected graduation date
Your major(s) and, if applicable, your minor(s)
Overall GPA (grade point average)
GRE (Graduate Record Examination) Scores
(If you have not taken the GRE, note when you are planning to take it.)
Any other test score, such as the MAT
Courses taken from the faculty member (Give course number, quarter, year, and grade.).
Discuss extra-curricular activities in which you have engaged while being a college student.
Discuss jobs you have held and positions of responsibility (Highlight any supervisory and/or professional aspects of these jobs.).
Discuss special interests you have developed that are related to psychology and/or probable future employment.
Discuss graduate school and/or career plans that you are considering.
Discuss academic and personal strengths.
Address growth areas.
Point out other things you would like the faculty member to know about you.