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Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD Students (with Sample) - Need, Parts, Qualities

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Students: For PhD students, a letter of recommendation is a crucial component of the application documents. While other admissions materials, like transcripts and test results, are factual, a letter of recommendation for PhD students integrates the plans and facts of a CV and statement of purpose. A résumé is a summary of your accomplishments, transcripts are evidence of your achievements, and an SOP describes the significance of the course and your readiness for it. A reference letter for a PhD is an unbiased opinion on everything mentioned above. TOP EXAMS : IELTS | TOEFL | GRE | GMAT Country Guide : UK | Ireland | Australia | Canada

What is the need for a letter of recommendation for PhD students

Types of lors for phd, select the right person to write recommendation letter for phd, letter of recommendation for phd students: qualities to focus on, parts of a lor for phd students, elements of letter of recommendation for phd students.

Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD Students (with Sample) - Need, Parts, Qualities

A PhD application usually requires at least two letters of recommendation for students from their professors. This allows the admission committee to know the applicants as people with skills that would otherwise be difficult to know from their resumes, transcripts and SOP. A letter of recommendation for PhD students should mention at least three qualities of the applicant – a social quality and at least two technical or subject-related qualities.

Moreover, as a PhD is an advanced specialised programme, the subject-related quality should be focused on projects carried out and specialised courses that will aid his/her PhD research. Read the complete article to know all the details about PhD letter of recommendation, PhD reference letter samples, and more.

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A recommendation letter for PhD student from professors holds much more importance than those applying for undergraduate or master's courses. Grades and GRE scores play a big role in receiving admission from a university. The LOR for PhD admission is usually the deciding factor when choosing between candidates with similar credentials. Go through the key points to be included in the reference letter for PhD students from the professor to gain an understanding of what it is before you ask your professor to write a PhD reference letter for you.

A PhD candidate must provide two letters of recommendation (LORs). Nevertheless, to ensure caution, it is recommended that the candidate should prepare a minimum of three LORs. Various universities may have different requirements for LORs from recommenders.

Academic Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD

Usually, universities require applicants to submit two or three Letters of Recommendation (LORs) for PhD from their previous educational institution. For undergraduate programs, these LORs can be obtained from teachers at your high school, while for masters or PhD, professors from your university can provide them.

Professional Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD

A Professional Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD from a Supervisor differs from an Academic LOR by emphasizing certain content related to the applicant's teamwork skills, industry knowledge, and leadership qualities.

Before asking someone for a recommendation letter for PhD application, you should know whom to ask. PhD is purely an academic degree and therefore you need to have a recommendation letter for PhD from those who can vouch for your academic inclination and strengths. PhD recommendation letter should be written by academicians with whom you have worked or someone who has supervised or taught you. If you are aspiring for a PhD programme or want a lor for PhD post-doctoral research, you should ideally ask your master's project guide or PhD guide to be one of the referees for your letter of recommendation for PhD students.

Your faculty must go through a sample recommendation letter for a PhD from a professor before sitting down to write one recommendation letter PhD for you. Other letters of recommendation for PhD students from teachers and professionals can be taken from persons who are from the same field or specialization in which you intend to do your PhD. You can also take your recommendation letter for doctoral programs from your supervisor who has an understanding of your academic capabilities.

Friends and relatives are not supposed to write your LOR for PhD admission for a number of reasons; first, they do not have first-hand information about your academic capabilities. Second, as they have not professionally or academically worked with you, they would not be able to present relevant information in the PhD letter of recommendation about you. Also, the recommender might not have in-depth knowledge of the discipline you intend to do a PhD. Last but not least, relatives cannot be objective about your qualities. That's why it is not a great idea to take your student recommendation letter from them. So a letter of recommendation for PhD students from teachers, professors, supervisors, coaches, etc., is only applicable.

The person who is writing a letter of recommendation for PhD students would be a professional who has known the applicant academically for no less than one year. The recommender should not only know you as one of the students in the department, but they should also know you as a person, your capabilities as a student, as well as your control over the subject they have been teaching. They should also be aware of your plans.

Recommendation letters for Ph.D. students from supervisors, and professors are very subject-specific. Referees should speak of strong subject knowledge as well as analysis traits. A Letter of recommendation for student should show the student as possessing positive qualities like intelligence, self-motivation, responsibility, and amiableness. Emphasis should be given to passion and dedication as well.

Advanced study like a Ph.D. is often a challenging and demanding program. Therefore, the LOR for PhD admission should also display perseverance, competitiveness and the ability to work independently. Courses and knowledge related to PhD programme-related packages, extra courses, and statistical analysis techniques should be exemplified in the letter of recommendation for the PhD program.

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A student recommendation letter for a PhD will typically be between one to two pages. The document of recommendation letter for PhD student should be well differentiated into 5–6 paragraphs. The LOR for PhD should begin with an introductory paragraph about the recommender and his/her association with the applicant. You must read a PDF of the PhD recommendation letter sample before you ask your recommenders to give you one.

The next 3 to 4 paragraphs in the letter of recommendation for PhD program should outline the different academic and social qualities of the applicant with suitable substantiation. No quality should be mentioned without a suitable example. Finally, the concluding paragraph will sum up the above with a line recommending the applicant for the programme.

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Below is a LOR for PhD sample from a professor. Candidates can consider it as a letter of recommendation format for PhD and refer to it while writing their LOR for PhD.

Reference letter sample for PhD student


Dear Admission Committee,

About the reviewer association with the applicant.

It is a pleasure to recommend Ms Tenzin Pema for a PhD programme in Psychiatry at [University Name]. I have known Ms Tenzin for the past two years through her work in my Project titled, ‘Learned Helplessness and Achievements in Adolescent Males and Females’. Pema has completed her Masters and MPhil in Adolescent Psychology from [University Name]. She first approached me two years ago about the possibility of working in my project as a Research Fellow. We discussed the scope of the project and her job responsibilities in our first meeting.

Quality 1

Subject knowledge

She had asked good questions and also referred to a few studies that have been carried out by the students in the Department as their Master's and M. Phil Projects. I was impressed by her preparedness for the interview and her inquisitiveness to know more on the subject. On appointment, I often found her in the library looking for other similar studies done. She often discussed her findings with me as well as discussed the course of action and possible evaluation techniques for the project. After a long secondary research, we decided to evaluate our subjects on the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (FFI) before the actual experiment. This study examined the psychometric properties of the Children's Attributional Style Questionnaire (CASQ), the 48-item questionnaire designed to assess children's causal explanations for positive and negative events

Quality 2. Leadership skill

During that project, Pema demonstrated the ability to work independently with creativity and enthusiasm as well as effectively lead a team of 3 Project Fellows for sample selection and data collection techniques. She trained the team on all aspects of the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (FFI) as well as CASQ. She was also able to collect the CASQ data of more than 50% of the students a year later.

Quality 3. Social and Communication Skills and

Analysis skills

Her communication skills put both the subject as well as the interviewer at ease thus facilitating an unbiased and effective data collection. Pema has good clarity on the various data analysis statistical packages especially MATLAB and ANOVA which immensely helped us in doing a comparative study through various methods. She was quick to learn R and use it effectively for analysis. She would invariably be the first person at the school well-prepared for the day.

Quality 4. Team skills

The Project Fellows in the project always had praise for Pema. They always mentioned her patience and perseverance in clarifying their doubts about the standardised data collection and analysis techniques. Pema had doubled her efforts on data collection when she found that one of the project fellows was down with a fever and cold. She had not let this affect the Project Schedule.

Quality 5. Creativity and patience

Pema is very creative and patient with the kids. The long questionnaire would be too tedious for the kids so she would often make origami for them as they worked on the questionnaire.

Quality 6. Achiever

Her hard work and perseverance paid off when her paper, ‘Learned helplessness and achievements in pre-adolescent males and females’ was selected for publication in an International Journal.

Strong Recommendation

Ms Tenzin Pema is clearly the best student that I have worked with in the past few years. I strongly recommend her for a PhD programme from [University Name]. She would be an asset to any university she joins.

Referee information



Department of Social Psychology

University Name


Email ID:

Contact No:

Like there is a letter of recommendation for PhD students from professors, you can also read about PhD reference letter sample pdf, sample LOR for graduate school from coworker pdf, letter of recommendation for PhD in computer science, sample recommendation letter for employee, etc which will give you a fair idea what a recommendation letter is all about.

A recommendation letter for PhD students from a professor or supervisor gives a human touch to the applicant’s profile. A reference letter for PhD student from a professor is the only document that can present the applicant’s social side to the admission committee. Therefore, choose a referee who can not only substantiate your academic strengths but also cite appropriate examples of your social qualities in your recommendation letter for PhD students.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

It is crucial that the person writing your recommendation letter is someone who is familiar with your academic abilities. The most frequent writers of letters of recommendation are academics; professors or supervisors, but, other experts who are familiar with you and have overseen your academic or research work may also be suitable candidates.

The reference letter should be 1-2 pages long with 5-6 paragraphs.

PhD suggestions are highly specialised. Referees should emphasise both analytical skills and in-depth topic understanding. Letters of recommendation for students should highlight their intelligence, initiative, responsibility, and interpersonal skills.

Yes, PhD, postdoc, and scholarship applications typically require two to three letters of recommendation. These letters should come from professors who know your work and can detail your possibilities.

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Graduate School Letter of Recommendation Examples 2022-2023

phd student letter of recommendation

Grad school recommendation letters are an essential part of every graduate school application package–even in this (almost) post-COVID era of remote work and Zoom classes. Nearly all applications to graduate school still require at least two recommendation letters from individuals who can discuss your abilities, competencies, and personal character in a coherent way and recommend you for admission to graduate school.

Many referees have difficulty writing these recommendations themselves (for language issues or simply because they are busy) and some rely on the applicant to pen the draft of the letter and receive confirmation before submitting it to the graduate school. But regardless of who is writing the letter, there are a few key elements the recommender needs to include to craft a stellar recommendation for their graduate candidate.

Who should write a recommendation letter for graduate school?

Choosing which professors, supervisors, or advisors to request a graduate school recommendation letter from can be somewhat overwhelming. Should you choose someone who does not know you personally but who has connections to your target graduate school? If a famous professor writes you a grad school recommendation letter, will this automatically give you an advantage with the admissions committee? 

In general, graduate recommendation letters should come from people who know you well, who respect you enough to say glowing things about you as a student and researcher, and who hold positions in school or work that are above your own. At least one letter of recommendation should be submitted from a past or current professor or academic advisor. 

Another could be from someone in a slightly different role, including an employer, a research adviser, a senior colleague, or a professor from a different department or kind of class (e.g., a discussion class professor instead of a lecturer). No matter who it is, the recommender should know the applicant and recognize their accomplishments. It also helps if the recommender understands some details about the program to which their candidate is applying.

Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing who to ask for letters of recommendation for graduate school. Select someone who:

  • Knows you well and can answer positively. Choose an individual who you have spent time with outside the classroom if possible. They should also be familiar with your career goals and hold a favorable view of you. 
  • Has known you for quite a while. A recommendation letter for graduate school carries more influence if the person has known you for months or years instead of months. If you can, find someone who knows you from various contexts, such as a professor who is also your advisor. 
  • Can speak to your strengths in relation to your graduate program. Choosing a finance professor to write your recommendation letter for an MBA program would be a good idea because they can write about the qualities that will aid you in pursuing an MBA (qualities you can also include in your MBA essay ) and a broader career in business. 
  • Has substantive stories to share about you. Who was fortunate enough to see you succeed in an academic, extracurricular, or professional setting? Having someone write your LOR who has good stories to share about you is certainly going to benefit you more than someone whose class you took with two hundred other students. 

How to Request a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

Knowing how to request a letter of recommendation for graduate school can directly impact the quality of the letter your referee writes for you. Show respect and consideration for the time that your recommender is taking to write a glowing review that will get you into graduate school and positively impact the rest of your life. 

With this in mind, it may seem obvious that the very best way to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school is to do so in person. While this isn’t possible for all students (due to availability or schedule), it is the best route if you want to ensure that your LOR is not only written on time, but includes all the positive information about you that admissions committees want to see in a graduate candidate. When you cannot ask in person, sending an email is an appropriate second-best option. But remember to always be cordial and polite when making this request. 

What information should be included in a graduate recommendation letter?

Your referral letter should cover a range of skills, from academic abilities to research experiences, to applied experiences in and out of class. As the recommender, your letter should clearly answer some specific questions:

Your letter of recommendation should cover a range of skills, from academic abilities to research experiences, to applied experiences in and out of class. As the recommender, your letter should clearly answer some specific questions:

  • What is your relationship with the student?
  • Why should the graduate faculty listen to your opinion? (include your status, title)
  • What makes this student special? (discuss their characteristics, qualities, traits)
  • What specifically did this student do to impress you? (discuss their accomplishments, habits in class)
  • What makes this student qualified for graduate school and for this program? (include specific courses or interests of the student in addition to abilities and traits)
  • What do you know about the program the student is applying to?

What information does the LOR recommender need from me?

The recommender should be given sufficient time to write (and/or confirm) the letter. If it has been a while since you were last in contact, sending a background information file will make things easier. Include the following information so that the recommender can use a few details to bolster their letter:

  • Classes the student has taken with the recommender
  • Experiences you have shared
  • Transcripts
  • Research experience and internships
  • Awards and achievements
  • Academic/career goals
  • Relevant professional experience

In addition to background information, make sure that the recommender has the necessary information to plan the writing in a timely manner and target the letter as much as possible:

  • Graduate program application due date
  • Copy of recommendation forms (if applicable)
  • Instructions for submitting LORs (hard copy, soft copy, or direct to school)
  • Details about the program and school the student is applying to

What style of writing should be used in a recommendation letter?

Although the letter of recommendation is more informal than academic writing, you should make sure that your language has no grammatical or mechanics errors and that it is of an academic level that reflects the author’s educational level and qualifications. Apply the following standards to the writing and the essay-drafting process:

  • Make your language more personal in tone than research writing.
  • Use the active voice and first-person point of view more often.
  • Write chronologically, starting from important traits and then moving on to actions and achievements.
  • Use lots of details—list course names, scores, and specific achievements of the student.
  • Edit your letter before submitting it to the graduate admissions faculty.

How to Write a Grad School Letter of Recommendation Letter: LOR Outline

A well-structured recommendation letter (like any organized essay) will guide the reader logically towards an understanding of why this student is worthy not only of praise but of admission to graduate school. Grad school requires quite a few high-level scholastic attributes that not all students possess, and therefore it is important to focus on both the achievements of the candidate and on their personal character and potential to thrive in a difficult academic environment.

Use this outline as a letter of recommendation template in which to input your candidate’s achievements, skills, and traits. Note that the flow of information moves the reader into greater detail, using form phrases and transitions that increase the readability of the letter.

1. Greeting to the recipient

Dear {Name}, or To Whom It May Concern, To the graduate faculty of the {University / Department}

2. Opening paragraph: position; relationship to the applicant; general assessment of the applicant

It is my absolute pleasure to recommend {Name} for admissions to {Program} at {University}… I am a professor of {area of study} in the department of {department} at {University}.

recommendation letter for grad school example 1

3. Second paragraph: positive skill or trait; evidence of trait or skill; anecdotes demonstrating this skill

Jane has excellent communication skills. Her written work is both clear and concise, as well as interesting to read…

recommendation letter for grad school example 2

4. Third (up to fifth) paragraph: Other skills or traits; evidence of character and skills; detailed anecdotes

At a personal level, Jane is a well-disciplined, industrious student with a pleasant personality. She went well beyond the course expectations…

recommendation letter for grad school example 3

5. Final Paragraph: clear recommendation of the candidate to the specific school or program.

Jane is unquestionably an exceptional candidate for graduate study in {Program Applying for}. Jane’s work in “Developments in Anthropology” suggests that she would greatly benefit from the opportunities for intellectual development provided by a sustained period of graduate study…

recommendation letter for grad school example 5

6. Closing line: polite offer to be contacted if needed

If I can be of any further assistance, or provide you with any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

recommendation letter for grad school example 6

Letter of Recommendation Template and Useful Phrases

Admission essays often contain template phrases or “form phrases” that allow the writer to plug in their specific information while not spending too much time deciding how to compose every single aspect of the writing. This can be especially useful for ESL authors because conventional expressions used in academic and essay writing can be difficult to learn and memorize. Use the following form phrases to help craft a more professional letter of recommendation.

Introducing yourself

  • My name is  {Author}  and I have been a Professor of Math at  {University}  since  {date} .
  • I write to you today to proudly express my support for  {Student}  in applying to your prestigious university.

Discussing your relationship with the applicant

  • I first came to know  {Student}  while teaching him/her in my  {Course Name}  course…
  • I was  {Student} ’s thesis advisor during his/her senior year.
  • I have known  {Student}  for several years now and can attest to his/her strengths and quality of character.

Discussing the student’s general positive traits

  • {Student}  has excellent communication skills and displays them regularly in class discussions.
  • He/She is a highly intelligent and competent student who excels in many areas.
  • Not only is  {Student}  hard-working and thoughtful, but he/she also demonstrates kindness and generosity towards his/her peers.

Demonstrating evidence of student’s character and skills

  • She/he has shown herself/himself to be a true leader who is able to successfully develop plans and implement them in his/her work.
  • {Student}  demonstrated his/her independence daily, completing difficult lab exercises by researching outside of class.
  • During his/her internship,  {Student}  consistently managed his/her work responsibilities diligently and learned quickly. For example…

Discussing the school/program the student is applying to

  • As  {University}  is renowned for its  {Program} , I believe this is an ideal place for  {Student}  to solidify his/her abilities and cement his/her knowledge of  {area of study} .
  • The learning environment that  {University}  is famous for creating excellent opportunities in which  {Student}  to apply his/her skills.

Final endorsement and offer to be contacted

  • For the above reasons, I am confident that  {Student}  will make an excellent addition to your graduate program, and I wholeheartedly support him/her for admission to your program.
  • Thank you for your time and attention in reading my endorsement.

Further Tips for Writing Admissions Essays

  • Highlight your self-motivation, competence, and potential in this essay
  • Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in the active voice.
  • Demonstrate through examples; don’t just write that you are a “persistent person”—show it!
  • Approach every topic with continuity and focus.

The Final Step: Editing Your Recommendation Letter

As any good writer knows, it takes more than one draft to create a strong and compelling work of writing. After you have written your recommendation letter draft, there is still a lot of room for revision. One way to ensure that grammar mistakes and style errors do not get in the way of a strong letter is to let the admissions experts at Wordvice’s Admissions Editing Services edit and proofread your (of your candidate’s) letter of recommendation or other application essays, raising the chances that your candidate will be admitted to the program of their choice.

With a full suite of professional proofreading services , we edit thousands of admission documents each year for all kinds of authors of academic and admissions documents just like you. Furthermore, our application essay editing services , recommendation letter editing services , personal statement editing services , CV editing services , cover letter editing services , and SOP editing services are tailored to the needs of your specific admissions essay.

For more articles on writing and editing your essays and academic work, visit Wordvice’s Academic Resource page . 

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Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School: The Definitive Guide

Who, when, and how to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school, including word-for-word scripts and a sample letter.

A woman smiling and asking a professor for a letter of recommendation


You’ve decided to apply to graduate school as the next step in your career journey. Whatever type of program you’re planning to attend, you’ll be asked to submit letters of recommendation as an admission requirement. You’ve been here before. You asked your high school teachers, advisors, or coaches for letters of rec when applying to undergrad. But how are letters of recommendation for graduate school different? What do you need to know in order to put your best foot forward and increase your chances of grad school admission?

Consider the purpose of your letters of recommendation for graduate school. In most situations, they’re written by your undergrad professors, so they’re a form of peer-to-peer advice. From one professor to another, the graduate program faculty are seeking the answer to a set of important questions. Do you have what it takes to excel in their program? And when there are so many qualified candidates to choose from, why should you be considered over other applicants? What personal qualities, experiences, and accomplishments make you the perfect fit for this program? 

Be careful not to underestimate the importance of a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school. If you have any weak areas in your application, say a less-competitive GPA or a GRE score slightly below average, an enthusiastic, detail-filled letter of recommendation may be the factor that redeems you and earns you an offer of admission. And if you’re competing against high-achieving applicants for a seat in a top graduate program, an impressive letter of recommendation has the power to sway the admissions committee in your favor.

So how do you secure impressive letters of recommendation for graduate school? We’ve compiled answers to the most pressing questions about grad school letters of recommendation so you can do everything in your power to impress admissions committees and make your grad school dreams come true.

Who should write your letters of recommendation for graduate school?

Most graduate school applications require you to submit two to three letters of recommendation, but different types of programs have different requirements about who your recommenders should be. You might be asked to submit a letter of recommendation for graduate school from a professor who teaches a specific subject. Or maybe you’ll have to get a letter from your work, research, or internship supervisor. For example, the Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA program requests letters of recommendation from both a current and a former work supervisor for applicants to be considered for admission. 

You want to be sure to pay close attention to the specific requirements of the grad schools on your application list. And if you’re given more freedom to decide your recommenders will be, you should still prioritize letters of recommendation from individuals who can speak to your academic ability or your experience related to the specific field of your intended graduate degree. An ideal set of recommendation letters would include one from a professor in a related subject, one from a research supervisor, and one from an internship or work supervisor.

Who would write the best letter of recommendation for graduate school

Choosing which professors, supervisors, or advisors to ask for graduate school recommendation letters can be challenging. Should you choose someone who doesn’t know you well but has an inside connection to the graduate school you’re applying to? If a prestigious professor writes you a letter of recommendation for graduate school would you get an automatic admissions advantage? 

These questions and more can keep graduate school hopefuls up at night, wondering how to maximize their admissions odds. To put your mind at ease, here are the best guidelines to use when selecting who to ask for letters of recommendation for graduate school. 

Someone who knows you well and positively. You should choose an individual who you’ve spent time with outside the classroom, who knows your career goals, and who holds a favorable opinion of you.   

Someone who has known you for a significant amount of time. A letter of recommendation for graduate school will carry more weight if the recommender has known you for two years instead of two months. Ideally, you want to find someone who has known you for a year or more in various formats (for example, as your professor, faculty mentor, and honor society advisor).

Someone who can speak to your specific strengths as they relate to the program. Choosing an economics professor to write your MBA letter of recommendation is a wise choice because they can speak to the specific qualities that will help you succeed in pursuing an MBA as well as a career in business. You might also choose a research, internship, or work supervisor to write your recommendation letter if they’re in the type of career you’re pursuing. 

Someone who has meaningful stories to share about you. Consider who witnessed some of your greatest accomplishments or saw you demonstrate high levels of initiative, commitment, or teamwork. A letter of recommendation that includes specific stories instead of general platitudes (“show, don’t tell”) is more impactful.

Someone who communicates effectively. If all other aspects are equal and you’re trying to decide between two potential recommenders, you should consider who will be more likely to produce a strongly-worded, persuasive letter on your behalf. Some professors are more generous, organized, and enthusiastic than others—those are the ones who write memorable letters of recommendation for graduate school.

When to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school?

You should ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school between six weeks and two months before the application deadline. This gives your recommender plenty of time to draft, write, and revise your letter of recommendation—increasing the final quality and level of impact.

If you’re seeking a letter of recommendation for graduate school from a professor, be especially mindful of what’s going on during the semester when you make your request. Is it the week of mid-terms? Is it the end of the semester where they might be overwhelmed with other duties? Consider what state of mind they might be in. The beginning of the semester is usually a calmer time for academics and an appropriate point to make your ask.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school 

The manner in which you ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school can directly impact the quality of the letter your recommender provides. Showing respect, consideration, and professionalism will start your letter of recommendation off on the right note. On the other hand, being too casual or seeming unappreciative will make your recommender less unenthusiastic about their endorsement, if they agree to give it at all!

That being said, the best way to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school is in person. Occasionally, this just won’t be possible, in which case sending an email is an appropriate back-up. But try your best to arrange a face-to-face meeting when seeking a letter of recommendation. 

How to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school in person

First, you will want to arrange a meeting with your potential recommender. It’s not suggested to drop by a professor’s office without an appointment or trying to catch them before or after class. By scheduling an appointment, you show respect for their time and demonstrate you’re taking your grad school applications seriously.

Below are exact email scripts you can use to request a letter in person:

Word-for-word email script when planning to ask someone you know well in person

Dear [Professor’s Name], 

I hope this message finds you well. I’m planning to apply to [type of graduate program] this fall and was wondering if I could meet with you to seek your guidance on the process. I have always valued your advice and hope to benefit from your perspective as I take this next big step in my educational journey. If so, please let me know what days and times you would be available to meet. Thank you for your consideration!

[Your Name/Last Name]

Word-for-word email script when planning to ask someone in person whom you haven’t seen or spoken with in a while

Dear [Professor’s Name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Name/Last Name], and I was a student in your [Course Number/Title] course during [Semester/year]. I greatly appreciated your class because [authentic reason].

I’m planning on applying to [type of graduate program] this fall and was hoping you’d be willing to share your perspective on the process. If so, please let me know what days and times you are available to meet with me. Thank you for your consideration!

Additional advice on asking for a letter of recommendation for graduate school in person

When you meet face-to-face with a professor, advisor, or supervisor to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school, be sure to clarify why you chose them in particular. Of all the potential individuals you could have asked, why are their opinions and perspectives most valuable to your application to grad school? Share why your experience and interactions with them have been valuable, and if applicable, how they have encouraged you to pursue a graduate education.

You can also identify the specific qualities and experiences you hope they will speak to in their letters. For example, you might ask your research supervisor to discuss your abilities with data analysis and interpretation if you were applying to a data-related degree program, such as the Master of Science in Data Science at Columbia University . 

If you’re meeting with someone you haven’t spoken to or seen in a while, you might want to frame your request in such a way to assess whether they feel capable of writing a strong letter of recommendation for you. For example, “Would you feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for graduate school that highlights my specific strengths?” A lukewarm, vague letter won’t increase your admissions chances, so if that’s the best one of your recommender options can provide, it would be better to thank them graciously for their time and search for a different recommender. 

How to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school by email

In the instance where meeting face-to-face is simply impossible, sending a well-crafted email is an appropriate way to ask for a letter of recommendation for graduate school. You only want to use this method with someone you know well. If you have someone in mind who you haven’t seen or spoken to recently, it’s imperative to meet them in person when making your request. 

Word-for-word email script when planning to ask someone you know well via email

I hope this email finds you well. I’m preparing to apply to [type of graduate program] this fall and was wondering if you’d feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation for me. [Add a sincere sentence or two explaining why a letter from them would be valuable and what experiences or qualities they might speak to]. 

If you’re willing to write a letter, I will send the following supporting materials: 1) my transcript, 2) my resume, 3) a draft of my personal statement, and 4) the graduate program description. Thank you for your consideration!

What pieces of information to provide to your recommenders

In order to help your recommenders produce high-quality letters of recommendation for graduate school, you should provide them a small informational packet after they agree to your request. This packet should include the following items:

A current transcript

An updated resume or CV

A copy of your personal statement for graduate school

A list of your relevant extracurriculars, such as research, internships, or involvement in academic societies

An outline of your career goals

A list of the graduate schools you are applying to 

Reminders of anything specific you hope they’ll include in their letter, such as your accomplishments in their class or under their supervision

Detailed instructions for submitting the letter of recommendation for graduate school

The deadline to submit their letter

What should a letter of recommendation for graduate school include?

If you ask professionals outside the world of academia for letters of recommendation—your work or internships supervisors, for instance—you might get the question, “What should a letter of recommendation for graduate school include?” In this case, you should provide your recommenders with the following list which outlines what strong recommendation letters contain.

A description of how they know you, how long they’ve known you, and how they are familiar with your work.

An explanation for how they think you’ll be successful in the program that avoids generalities and uses specific anecdotes as proof.

A highlight of a few of your top qualities they’ve witnessed—again, using examples as evidence.

A high recommendation, particularly in comparison with your peers. For example, “She is one of the most ambitious/curious/insightful students I have encountered in my 10+ years of internship supervision. I highly recommend her to your graduate program.”

These objectives will guide any recommender to produce an outstanding, impactful letter of recommendation for graduate school and increase your grad school admissions odds.

When to send reminders about your letters of recommendation for graduate school

If by two weeks before the application deadline you haven’t received confirmation from your recommenders that they submitted your letters of recommendation, you will want to respectfully check-in with a reminder. Before you do, contact the grad school admissions office to verify the letter is still outstanding. If it is, you can send a reminder to your recommender via email. 

Word-for-word email script when reminding someone of the letter of recommendation deadline

I hope this email finds you well. I plan on submitting my graduate school applications [on date or in # of days/weeks], so I wanted to send you a reminder regarding your recommendation letter. Please let me know if there’s any additional information I can provide you.

Thanks again for your support!

Once you do receive notification that the letter of recommendation for graduate school has been received, be sure to send a thank you letter or email to your recommender. And after you’ve received your admissions decision and chosen which program to attend, remember to send them a final update and thank them again for their role in your success.

Sample letter of recommendation for graduate school

Dear Program Committee: 

I hope you will strongly consider accepting Constance Wong to your PhD in Counseling Psychology program. I recommend her most highly to you. I am an associate professor at Chapman University. I have known Constance for approximately 3 years. I served as her instructor for Group Counseling, Theories of Psychology, and Counseling Techniques Laboratory.

Constance is simply phenomenal. Please allow me to explain. Constance is a hard-working, reliable, and talented counselor-in-training. She was one of the most engaged and committed students I have ever taught. During my class sessions, she frequently made incisive contributions to discussions and emanated a cheerful, humorous spirit. Constance was also highly receptive to feedback and instruction. I gained the sense that she relished opportunities to learn from supervisory feedback. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed having her in classes. 

Her counseling skills are very well developed. I had the opportunity to observe Constance’s group and individual counseling skill development in my courses. She evidenced a highly empathic, genuine, and sensitive presence. Simultaneously, she balanced these gifts with mastery of a skill-set referred to as “executive functioning” (for example, providing structure for counseling sessions, implementing plans, and managing time). It was exciting for me to witness this unique combination. 

Finally, Constance’s professionalism and dedication are unparalleled. Her assignments were always submitted on time and with exceptional quality. I could count on her to participate as a team player in group projects. In fact, she is one of those rare students who sought out extra opportunities for professional development: she completed advanced training in grief counseling for children and volunteered as a group facilitator for Good Grief, Inc. Similarly, she attended professional development workshops on play therapy and assisting children through tragic events. Such experiences illustrate her strong commitment to the field of psychology. 

I sincerely hope you will take the opportunity to meet and know this exceptional individual. I offer this recommendation without reservation and would be happy to discuss Constance’s qualifications further should you have any questions. 


Terry N. Schumer, PhD

phd student letter of recommendation

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

How to write a letter of recommendation for grad school

When someone asks you to write a graduate school letter of recommendation , it demonstrates that they value your opinion, trust you and believe in your writing skills.

But as flattering as it is to be asked, there is also some pressure associated with crafting an effective and convincing letter of recommendation. After all, the applicant is counting on you to influence the admissions board and highlight their accomplishments, strengths and skill sets.

The good news is, writing a graduate school letter of recommendation is more intuitive than you think. Below, we’ve rounded up all the tips you need to write the perfect letter for anyone in your sphere.

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

First off, let’s go over what a letter of recommendation is.

A letter of recommendation is a brief, written endorsement needed for certain jobs, programs or schools that details a person’s qualifications for whatever they’re applying for.

It’s written by a trusted and valued source: usually a past employer, teacher, mentor or colleague. In a letter of recommendation for graduate school, the writer describes the person’s skills, their personality and why they’re the right fit for the program. This is all so the institution has confirmation of the applicant’s ability to succeed in the program.

If you don’t believe you’re the right fit to write a student’s recommendation, that’s OK, too. You can politely decline and explain to the student why. You can also offer to help them find someone else who’s a more appropriate choice.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Grad School

Once you’ve decided to accept and write the letter of recommendation, take a moment to consider some key questions before you begin crafting your statement.

  • What is your relationship like with this person?
  • What do you think of their work you’ve seen? How would you describe it?
  • What are significant memories you have with them?
  • What qualities or strengths does this person have?
  • What would you specifically want somebody to know about this person?
  • What value would this person bring to this grad school program, and how would they thrive in the field after the program?

What to Ask From Someone Before Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Of course, there is some student information you’ll want to obtain before starting your recommendation. To ensure you’re addressing all the right points and representing them in the best light possible, make sure you ask them the below questions.

The basics . First off, you should find out where this letter is going, to whom it should be addressed, what the deadlines are and how they’d like you to submit it (mail, email, etc.).

Why they want to go to this program and why they are drawn to this school . It’s important to know the motivation behind their graduate school studies: Is it for the love of learning? To get a better job? To switch fields altogether? This will help inform what you write in the letter. Similarly, it’s good to know why a specific school is calling them as well.

Any strengths or qualities they want highlighted . Each person will have different qualities they want you to discuss in their letter of recommendation. If the strengths they mention are ones you agree with and seem relevant to the degree program, definitely include them. You should also ask about what achievements they’ve made that will help them stand out from the crowd of applicants.

Their resume . No one can memorize a person’s entire job and education history. A resume can help remind you of special projects and exemplary work they’ve accomplished in the past, which you can then emphasize in your letter.

What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation for Grad School

There are specific things you should always include in a letter of recommendation for graduate school to make it shine and improve the applicant’s chances of admission.

These are the points that you must undoubtedly touch on throughout your recommendation:

How do you know the applicant? It’s important to describe who you are and how you know the applicant, as well as how long you’ve known them. Personal anecdotes are a must, and they boost your credibility.

Why are they a good fit for the program? Include an explanation for why you think they would specifically thrive in the program. Avoid being vague or general. Dive into why the school would be the perfect fit, and vice versa!

What are their most shining accomplishments? Describe their achievements, especially the ones you’ve personally witnessed. In addition, reference their top strengths and qualities. Again, avoid generalities and use vivid anecdotes.

Can you explain any gaps or discrepancies? A letter of recommendation is often a good time to clear up any troubling parts of the student’s resume or work history — perhaps there was an employment gap or grades dip because they were caring for a sick relative, for example. If you’re aware of any weak spots on their resume from extenuating circumstances, this is the time to note it.

What sets the applicant apart from the rest? Be sure to conclude on a strong note with a very clear, concise recommendation. Highlight what sets them apart from other people, so the program can clearly understand why they should admit this candidate into their college or university.

How to Format and Structure a Graduate School Letter of Recommendation

As for structure, letters of recommendation should not be longer than a page. Start off with a greeting (“Dear [Name]” or “To Whom It May Concern,” if you don’t know the recipient). In the opening paragraph, explain who you are, the nature of your relationship with the student and your overall impression of them.

Within the body of the letter, you can expand on their personality, skills and achievements — along with personal anecdotes — before wrapping up with a final strong and clear recommendation for the applicant.

Then, feel free to add in a polite offer to contact you if they need more information and a formal parting signature. Double-check for spelling and grammar, too, as any mistake could weaken your credibility.

Once you’ve proofread the letter, all you have to do is submit it as instructed and patiently wait for an update from the applicant. Best of luck!

For more information, explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

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How (and Who) to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation

Published on October 30, 2020 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on June 1, 2023.

Letters of recommendation often make or break a graduate school application . It’s important to think carefully about who to ask and how to do it.

Ideally, you should approach former supervisors who know you and your work well, and can advise you. Different programs require different types of recommendation letters, but the process of requesting them is similar.

Follow these five steps to guarantee a great recommendation, including program-specific tips and email examples.

Table of contents

Step 1: choose who to ask, step 2: reach out and request a meeting, step 3: ask for a letter of recommendation, step 4: share your resume and other materials, step 5: remind your recommenders of upcoming deadlines, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about recommendation letters.

Your first step is to decide who you’ll ask to write a letter for you. Ideally, this should be someone who you worked with outside of just the classroom context—for example, a former professor who supervised your research.

It’s important to ask someone who knows you well, even if they are less well known than other professors at your institution. Graduate admissions committees want to get a good sense of your ability to perform well in their program, and this is difficult to accomplish if your recommender only knows you as a face in the crowd.

Who you should ask also strongly depends on the type of program that you’re applying to. Different programs prefer different qualities in their admitted students, and thus weigh types of recommenders differently. Take a look at the program-specific tips below.

For research programs (MPhil, DPhil, PhD , Research Master’s), graduate admissions committees are looking for evidence of your potential as a future researcher.

Since this is tricky to assess from test scores and transcripts, letters of recommendation are often the most important part of a graduate research program application.

Your letter should thus be from someone who can speak to your skills as a researcher. This could be, for example, a professor who supervised you on an independent research project, or the head of a lab that you worked in as an undergraduate.

If you worked as a full-time research or lab assistant after undergrad, ask your managers, who are usually full-time researchers themselves and therefore experts on what makes a good researcher.

Unlike most graduate programs, business schools are less interested in your undergraduate academic performance. Instead, they try to assess your potential to succeed in the workplace, particularly in managerial or leadership positions. The same applies to public policy and other professional programs.

Ideally, your letters of recommendation should come from current supervisors at your work. If this isn’t possible, you should ask coworkers who are senior to you and know your work well.

Although business schools normally prefer candidates with several years of experience, current undergraduates sometimes apply as well. In this case, you should ask internship supervisors or—as a last resort—professors who know you well.

Medical schools look for evidence that you are academically prepared for the study of medicine and that your character is well-suited to becoming a doctor. Admissions committees in medicine prefer academic references, but they also require a few extra steps.

Firstly, while graduate programs usually require two or three recommendation letters, medical schools often ask for more—you may have to submit up to six letters, some of which should be from former professors in the natural sciences.

In addition, many schools recommend that you submit a letter from the premedical advisory committee at your undergraduate institution, which summarizes your overall suitability for medical school. Be aware that deadlines for materials for these letters are very early—often the spring of the year before you are due to start medical school.

Finally, if you’ve worked on any research projects, you should submit a letter from your supervisor. Medical schools view research competence as a plus.

Law school letters of recommendation should mostly be from former professors or other academic supervisors.

You should only use non-academic recommenders if they can directly speak to your suitability to study law—for example, if you regularly work with lawyers, or if your job involves skills like critical reading or research that are relevant to legal practice.

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The next step is to get in contact with your potential recommender. If you haven’t talked to them in a while, begin your email with a quick reminder to jog their memory. Be friendly, direct, and concise.

If possible, it’s best to plan a meeting to discuss your request. However, if this isn’t practical (for example, if you’ve moved far away from your undergrad institution), you can skip this step and head straight to the third.

Hi Professor Smith!

I hope that everything is going well with you and that you’re still enjoying teaching your seminar on the post World War II international order. I thoroughly enjoyed taking it with you last year as a junior.

I’m currently thinking about what I want to do next year, which will hopefully involve graduate work in political science, and was hoping to meet with you to discuss your thoughts on graduate school. Do you have any time over the next few weeks to meet?

Make your request during your meeting or, if necessary, via email. Let them know what sort of programs you are applying to and when the deadlines are. Make sure to give your recommenders plenty of time!

Instead of just asking for a recommendation letter, specifically ask if they can write you a strong recommendation . This allows your recommender an “out”—for example, if they don’t feel they know you well enough. A bad or even lukewarm recommendation is the kiss of death for any application, so it’s important to ensure your letters will be positive!

If they say they can’t give you a strong recommendation, don’t panic. This gives you the opportunity to ask someone else who can provide you a better recommendation.

Hi Professor Jones!

How are you? I hope everything is going well and you’re still teaching Introduction to Labor Economics to eager students!

I’ve been out of school for a year now, working as a full-time research assistant in New York City. Come this fall, I’m hoping to apply to a few programs for graduate school, mostly doctoral programs in Economics.

Since I took two economics classes with you (Introduction to Labor Economics in Spring 2018 and Industrial Organization in Fall 2019), I was hoping that you might agree to serve as a letter writer for my graduate program. I wanted to highlight my work in labor economics, since that’s what I’m hoping to study in graduate school. Also, since I loved your classes, I thought you might be a good person to ask!

The letters of recommendation would be due to each individual program’s website in December. I understand, of course, if you’re too busy this summer or if you don’t feel that you would be the best fit to write a letter. My goal is simply to paint as complete a picture as possible of my undergrad career at Western. If you’d like, we can also discuss this on the phone.

I look forward to hearing back from you!

You should send your resume or CV to your recommenders, along with any other material that might jog their memory or aid in their recommendation.

For instance, you may want to send along your statement of purpose or writing sample if one is requested in your application. Admission committees are looking for a cohesive story that the letters of recommendation, personal statement , and CV work together to tell.

You should also check whether the school provides any prompts or guidelines for recommenders. Many programs want your recommenders to comment on your potential to serve in the specific role the graduate program prepares you for. See the program-specific tips below.

Finally, you should send an email to your recommenders a few weeks before the letters are due, reminding them of the deadline and asking if there is anything else you can send them to assist in writing the letter.

If any materials are late, programs will often reject your entire application, so it is imperative that your recommenders get their letters in on time. However, you should also keep in mind that your letter writers are probably quite busy, so don’t send too many reminders!

Dear Professor Jones,

Hope the semester is going well! Thank you again for agreeing to serve as my recommender. I just wanted to send you a quick reminder that recommendations for Program X, Y, and Z are due in two weeks, on December 15. Please let me know if you need anything else from me, and thank you again!

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Choose people who know your work well and can speak to your ability to succeed in the program that you are applying to.

Remember, it is far more important to choose someone who knows you well than someone well-known. You may have taken classes with more prominent professors, but if they haven’t worked closely with you, they probably can’t write you a strong letter.

This depends on the program that you are applying for. Generally, for professional programs like business and policy school, you should ask managers who can speak to your future leadership potential and ability to succeed in your chosen career path.

However, in other graduate programs, you should mostly ask your former professors or research supervisors to write your recommendation letters , unless you have worked in a job that corresponds closely with your chosen field (e.g., as a full-time research assistant).

It’s best to ask in person if possible, so first reach out and request a meeting to discuss your graduate school plans.

Let the potential recommender know which programs you’re applying to, and ask if they feel they can provide a strong letter of recommendation . A lukewarm recommendation can be the kiss of death for an application, so make sure your letter writers are enthusiastic about recommending you and your work!

Always remember to remain polite. Your recommenders are doing you a favor by taking the time to write a letter in support of your graduate school goals.

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Stanford Online

A guide to letters of recommendation for graduate school applications.

Woman reading a letter of recommendation

Embarking on a journey toward higher education is an exciting yet overwhelming endeavor, and the path to graduate school is no exception.

As you gather the necessary materials for your application, one critical component can be particularly complex: letters of recommendation. These letters provide insight into your academic and professional capabilities, offering admissions committees a glimpse into your potential as a graduate student, but how can you impact this important part of your application? In this guide, we'll explore how to approach this aspect of your application, using Stanford University's recommendations and insights from the Graduate Admissions website .

How Many Letters of Recommendation Do You Need?

Requirements vary considerably across different types of graduate level educational programs. Nearly all master’s degree programs, including all of Stanford’s programs, require letters of recommendation, however graduate certificate programs often do not. If you choose to pursue a graduate certificate at Stanford, letters of recommendation are not required with your application. If you're determining whether to pursue a graduate certificate or master’s degree through Stanford Online, you may find this comparison tool helpful .

Most master’s degree programs, including MS programs through Stanford , require three letters of recommendation. However, it's essential to verify the specific guidelines set by your target institution and program. Once you know the number of letters that are required, it's a good strategy to have additional recommenders in mind. For every letter you need, aim to identify at least two individuals who could provide strong endorsements on your behalf. This precautionary approach ensures that you have a backup plan in case one of your intended recommenders is unable to fulfill your request.

Who Should Write Your Letters Of Recommendation?

Securing strong letters of recommendation begins with choosing the right individuals to vouch for your abilities. Stanford advises that your recommenders be academic or professional references who know you well and can most accurately assess your potential for graduate study. Ideally, at least one of these letters should come from a university professor familiar with your academic work.

Consider individuals who have worked closely with you and can attest to your skills, achievements, and potential. The goal is to select people who can provide detailed and authentic insights into your capabilities, whether it's a professor whose course you excelled in, a supervisor from an internship, or a professional colleague.

What Makes a Good Letter of Recommendation?

Recommendation letters are a window into your character and potential.Stanford's guidelines shed light on what these letters should encompass. Recommenders are asked to respond to specific questions, such as the level of your abilities in comparison to other students, the number of years they've evaluated people in your peer group, and your standing in terms of academic performance.

The recommendation letter prompt encourages recommenders to provide candid assessments of your qualifications,including your potential for advanced study, analytical thinking capabilities, and ability to express ideas clearly. Descriptions of significant achievements, personal qualities, and character traits relevant to your scholarly pursuits are highly valuable.

How Should You Ask Someone to Write You a Letter of Recommendation?

Even after you’ve identified people who you think would be good choices for recommenders, it can be intimidating to ask them! We’ve put together some tips to aid you in this process:

  • Plan Ahead and Communicate Timely Start the process well in advance to give your recommenders ample time to write a thoughtful letter. It's courteous to reach out at least two months prior to the application deadline. But if you're especially eager to get started, you can reach out as early as six months ahead of time. Reaching out early demonstrates your respect for your recommender's time and allows them to allocate sufficient time to craft a compelling letter.
  • Initiate a Personalized Conversation When approaching someone for a recommendation, make it a personalized interaction. Reach out in-person, if possible, or schedule a phone or video call with them. If the person is very busy you may be most successful with a well-composed email. When you reach out, express your gratitude for their guidance and mentorship, and explain your intention to apply for graduate school.
  • Provide Them with Context and Information In your request, offer context about the program you are applying to, the field of study, and specific details that might be relevant. This information will help your recommender tailor their letter to align with the expectations of the program and highlight the qualities that are most important for admission.
  • Make the Request Explicit Clearly state that you are requesting a letter of recommendation. Politely ask if they would be willing to support your application by writing a strong letter on your behalf. Be direct, yet respectful, in your approach.
  • Offer Resources and Materials To facilitate the process for your recommender, provide essential information such as your resume, transcripts, personal statement, and any relevant assignments or projects you've worked on together. This will give them the necessary material to craft a well-informed and accurate letter. Be sure to also share the information you have about the process. For example, if you’re applying to Stanford, each of your recommenders are also asked to fill out an additional form of questions. Stanford also provides a general prompt for the letter which would be helpful for you to share. However the exact prompt displayed to the recommender may differ depending on the graduate program you select.
  • Follow Up and Stay Engaged Once your recommender agrees to write the letter, stay engaged and responsive. Offer any additional information they might need, answer their questions promptly, and provide periodic updates on your application progress. A thankyou note after the letter is submitted is a thoughtful gesture.
  • Express Your Gratitude Throughout your request, convey your sincere appreciation for their assistance. Recognize that writing a recommendation letter takes time and effort, and express your gratitude for their willingness to contribute to your academic journey.

How do you submit your letters of recommendation once they are complete?

This part of the process depends entirely on the program and institution for which you are applying, check with the information specific to your program.

At Stanford, recommenders must register on the online application system. Timeliness is crucial, so aim to complete this step as early as possible to ensure that the letters are received by the application deadline. Stanford's system will generate personalized links for your recommenders to submit their recommendations online.

After your recommenders have submitted their letters, you'll receive email notifications confirming their completion. The application system allows you to manage your recommenders on the same page where you registered them. This includes sending reminder emails and making changes, if necessary.

How Can Ethical Integrity Be Maintained?

It's important to emphasize that you must respect ethical guidelines throughout this process. You should not draft, write, translate, or submit your own reference. Stanford University's application terms explicitly state that the letters of recommendation must be authored solely by your recommenders. Informing your recommenders about this policy is your responsibility to ensure the integrity of your application.

In summary, letters of recommendation play an integral role in your graduate school application, providing valuable insights into your potential as a student and future scholar. By selecting the right recommenders, registering them early, guiding them with prompts and being prepared with your examples and materials, you can ensure that your application showcases your strengths and capabilities in the best light possible. As you embark on this next chapter of your academic journey, remember that your recommenders are your allies, championing your cause as you strive to reach new heights in your field of study.

We hope you found this letters of recommendation guide useful as you’re applying to grad school, please know that following the advice in this article does not guarantee your admission to any program.

Best of luck!

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  • 20 July 2020

Writing the perfect recommendation letter

Andy Tay is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Undergraduates need them for graduate-school applications; PhD students and postdocs use them to apply for fellowships and jobs; senior scientists often have to have them to apply for awards and promotions. But writing an effective and personal recommendation letter can be time-consuming, especially for academics who must juggle grant applications, manuscripts, teaching and student supervision. And some might struggle to say the right things to support a former employee or student in their career move, while sounding original and unique.

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Graduate School Recommendation Letter From Professor

An Illustrative Example/Template

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Every recommendation letter is unique, just like the student it is written for. Yet, good recommendation letters share similarities in format and expression. Below is a sample/template showing one way of organizing a recommendation letter for graduate study .

In this particular example, the emphasis is on the student's academic work. The letter begins by explaining the context in which the student is known, followed by details of the work that forms the basis for the writer's recommendation. It is the details that count.

December 19, 201x

Dr. Smith Director of Admissions Graduate School University 101 Grad Avenue GradTown, WI, 10000

Dear Dr. Smith,

I am writing to you in support of Mr. Stu Student and his desire to attend Graduate School University for the Basket Weaving program. Though many students ask me to make this request on their behalf, I only recommend candidates who I feel are well-suited for the program of their choice. Mr. Student is one of those students and I am convinced he will contribute very positively to your university.

As a professor of the Basket Weaving Department at Undergrad University, I work with many students who have substantial knowledge of basket weaving. Mr. Student has consistently shown such a strong desire and competence in learning basket weaving that I simply could not turn down his request for a recommendation.

I first met Mr Student in my Intro to Basket Weaving course during the Fall 2012 semester. Compared to the class average of 70, Mr. Student earned a 96 in the class. The coursework was predominantly evaluated on [explain basis for grades, e.g., exams, papers, etc.], in which he performed exceptionally well.

Stu is an outstanding individual with a strong character. He has the ability to produce impressive results in a wide variety of areas. Stu is/has [list of positive traits/skills, e.g. organized, motivated, etc.]. I have seen astonishing results on the complex projects that required great attention to detail and the quality was never compromised. Additionally, he has a very positive attitude and truly embraces learning all there is to know about basket weaving.

Though Stu has consistently exceeded in all areas of his coursework, the best example of his intelligence shone through a [paper/presentation/project/etc.] on theories of basket weaving. The work clearly showed his ability to deliver a clear, concise, and well-thought presentation with a new perspective by demonstrating [embellish here].

In addition to his coursework, Stu also dedicated some of his time volunteering at [Club or Organization Name]. His position required him to [list of tasks]. He felt volunteering was an important leadership role, in which he learned [list of skills]. The skills acquired through volunteering will be beneficial to all of Stu's future endeavors. Stu has the ability to manage and organize his time and schedule around different activities without having them interfere with his schoolwork.

I believe Stu is destined to be a leader in basket weaving and therefore is an excellent candidate for your school. I highly recommend that you consider his application, as he will be a great asset to your program. I'm sure you will find him to be a student whose talents will only grow. If you would like further information, please feel free to contact me.

Tea Cher, Ph.D. Professor Undergrad University

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PhD applicants: Everything you need to know about letters of recommendation

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In this blog post, Chris Blattman gives advice on what the purpose of recommendation letters is, who you should ask, and how to manage the process.

Excerpt: Will a professor write you a letter of recommendation? My answer: Writing student recommendations comes with the faculty job, and I usually write if asked. But since this academic territory is often so unfamiliar to grad and undergrad students, let me give some general guidelines and advice.

Read the full article here.

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Writing Recommendation Letters Online

Sample Graduate School Recommendation Letters


The three sample recommendation letters that follow, which you can download by clicking on the link below, are effective because they detail what makes the students stand out as exceptional and because they paint individual pictures of each student. Note how these excerpts, excerpted from each of the three letters, individualize and humanize the student:

“I have been especially impressed by Janet’s determination and sparkle.” “I enthusiastically supported her application for the student position on the Mythic University Board of Trustees for the same reasons. She was the runner-up for that distinguished post, and Mythic University lost out on a true leader. But I believe her time is yet to come.” “In short, John is both scholarly and culturally entrenched, ambitious but not pretentious, self-deprecating yet confident, forthright but unassuming, delightfully irreverent yet appropriately respectful—a complex and whole human being.”

In addition, the writers of these three letters take advantage of many of the rhetorical strategies discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 of this manual: enhancing their own credibility, narrative technique, anecdotal evidence, recommending by citing others, and using active verbs and transitions.

Finally, a late paragraph in the last letter, at the prompting of the graduate scholarship application, even provides a few criticisms of the student. Because these criticisms are offered even-handedly and efficiently, I would argue that the letter has even more ethos, and it is noteworthy that the student still landed the desired scholarship.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Letters of Recommendation

What this handout is about.

Producing an effective recommendation letter involves strategy, research, and planning. This handout is designed to introduce recommenders to some best practices for writing effective recommendation letters.

Deciding whether to write a recommendation

Recommendation letters are likely to receive close scrutiny, and sparse or non-specific recommendations may negatively impact an application. If a recommender is unable or unwilling to produce a recommendation that speaks directly to the individual applicant and position, the selection committee or potential employer may interpret this negatively. If you do not feel that you could provide a positive or detailed recommendation, it is okay to decline!

There are several reasons why it may be appropriate to decline a request for a recommendation:

  • You may not feel comfortable writing a positive letter, either because you have no information about the student or because they did not perform well enough in a class or position.
  • You may feel you are a “bad fit” for the student’s application. For example, if your field of expertise is completely unrelated to the student’s area of interest, you might advise the student to ask recommenders with more relevant backgrounds.
  • You may feel that you lack the necessary credentials to offer a compelling recommendation. For example, graduate student instructors may feel as if they cannot credibly endorse their students’ graduate school applications. Thus, students may be directed to faculty to write letters instead of graduate students.
  • You may know that you will not have time to write and proofread a strong letter before the student’s deadline.

Consider setting up a meeting. This will give you an opportunity to ask about the applicant’s academic background, professional goals, and reasons for applying. It may help to clarify whether this is a one-time request, or whether you are being asked to serve as a recommender for several applications. It’s a good idea to request to see the applicant’s resume, CV, personal statement, or other components of the application. Each of these can give you a sense of the applicant’s goals and help you decide if you would be a good recommender. These items will also allow you to tailor your letter appropriately if you decide to write on the applicant’s behalf.

Confidentiality and protected information

Many applications invite applicants to waive their right to view a letter of recommendation. Confidential letters of recommendation may be viewed as more credible than letters that applicants can access.

You should be aware of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and your institution’s FERPA-related guidelines when writing recommendation letters. FERPA prohibits disclosure of protected student information such as grades and attendance without the student’s prior written consent. Students who want you to address protected information should specify which records you may disclose, the purpose for which the disclosure is being made, and to whom the information may be disclosed. You can read more about FERPA here: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html .

Writing strong recommendations

After committing to write a recommendation for an applicant, gather information about the opportunity to which they are applying. Besides asking the applicant about the organization, you may also want to reach out to someone in your own professional network who may know something about the audience or take some time to do your own research. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the organization’s values and priorities? Some organizations state this information explicitly on their websites and other publications, and this can help you tailor your letter to directly address the audience’s top concerns.
  • What information does the audience want to learn from you? Some institutions will ask you to answer specific questions about the applicant in your letter. Knowing these in advance will give you more time to talk with the student about any information you may need.
  • How is this opportunity a good fit for the applicant? Referencing special features and benefits offered by a position shows that you’ve done your homework, which can add to the weight of your recommendation by demonstrating that you are willing to invest extra work in your student’s success. You will also be able to speak to the applicant’s fit for the position in greater detail.

Keep in mind that nearly all recommendations contain a positive appraisal of an applicant’s abilities and character, and it costs recommenders almost nothing to offer general and unsubstantiated praise of an applicant. Letters that claim an applicant is “the best student I’ve ever worked with” or “the hardest working employee I’ve ever had” are likely to meet with skepticism, unless the writer includes specific evidence to back up these claims. Even letters that contain genuine praise may come across as form letters unless you can speak to unique evidence about the student that corroborates your positive assessment.

Many different kinds of information may constitute evidence in a recommendation, and it is up to you to determine what would be most convincing to the audience. Here are some guidelines for what you may want to include or avoid:

  • Do describe your relationship with the applicant. Say how long you’ve known the applicant and in what capacity. This information helps the audience understand how well you know the applicant. For example, sharing that you’ve advised a student for three years and taught them in two senior seminars demonstrates that you know your applicant better than a recommender who has only recently met the student or who has only taught the student in a large lecture class.
  • Do include quantitative data about a student’s performance in a class or an employee’s performance in a position. Because raw grade point averages or other performance metrics are sometimes difficult to translate across different contexts, try to rank students against other students. For example, rather than saying “Judith received an A in my class,” aim for evidence that tells the audience how Judith’s performance compared to her classmates’: “Judith was among the top 5% of students in her large lecture class.” (Remember, if you do include specific grades in your letter, you must have written consent from the student as per FERPA.)
  • Do compare applicants to students who have been placed into other positions. A statement like, “Over the past five years, other students with undergraduate research experience similar to Amer’s have been accepted to graduate programs at X, Y, and Z,” gives the audience a sense of where Amer stands in a wider population of successful students. Including comments like these also indicates that you have a good sense of what makes an applicant successful.
  • Do mention the applicant’s personal and/or intellectual strengths as they pertain to the application. For example, it may be helpful to emphasize a study abroad applicant’s open-mindedness. Again, include appropriate evidence for this claim, which may involve discussing or even directly citing the student’s written work in your class.
  • Do explain why you think the applicant is a good fit. Selection committees are often interested in hearing how students would contribute to the intellectual and professional climate of their institution. Given your experience with the student, help the audience see the type of employee or scholar the student will be: “Casey’s research experience in early-modern Arabic poetry would make them an ideal addition to Professor Seif’s Syrian cultural archival project.” If possible, mention the position/school/fellowship by name. This proves that you’ve taken enough interest in the letter to target it for each recipient. It will not always be possible to tailor recommendations to each program; for example, many postgraduate programs are moving to common applications that send the same letters to all programs to which students apply.
  • Don’t shy away from discussing the applicant’s weaknesses —but only if those weaknesses are likely to already be on the audience’s radar. For example, you may have insight into why your student received an uncharacteristically low grade in your class during their final semester that could alleviate an audience’s concerns. You may draw attention to the applicant’s growth as well as the potential for continued growth in the new position. Keep in mind, however, that recommendation letters are expected to be positive in tone, so proceed with caution when discussing applicants’ weaknesses. Specifically avoid commenting on personality traits or other topics that are irrelevant to the application.
  • Don’t rely on generalizations, clichés, or platitudes. Every good applicant will be “dedicated,” “hard-working,” and “enthusiastic.” Praise like this is likely to appear in dozens of other letters for other applicants, so you need to say more to help your applicant stand out. Include specific examples to support these descriptors. Convey the unique strengths of your student, especially any that you believe speak directly to the audience’s interests or values. Also pay special attention to any language that may inadvertently convey gender or other biases. For example, some studies have reported that language that pertains to effort (rather than accomplishments), personal life details (rather than relevant professional information), and emotional capacities (rather than academic or professional ability) more frequently appear in recommendations for women than for men. Focusing on traits that are demonstrable with evidence and germane to the program or position to which the student is applying is the best way to avoid implicit bias in your letters.
  • Don’t include too much information about you or your class. Although some brief background information about the context in which you know the student is appropriate, do not spend so much time discussing course or assignment details that the letter is no longer focused upon the applicant.
  • Don’t offer tepid praise or left-handed compliments. Half-hearted comments are almost guaranteed to attract the wrong kind of attention. Although you may honestly report that your student “completed all course assignments on time” or “was an adequate writer,” the audience will likely interpret these phrases as veiled criticism. Avoiding tepid praise is more difficult than it seems. After you’ve finished writing the letter, read over it with a critical eye and try to assume the worst of the student. Do any of your sentences invite uncharitable interpretation?
  • Don’t simply summarize the applicant’s CV or resume. As with tepid praise, simply reiterating what the audience already knows from other parts of the application implies that you either don’t know or don’t care enough about the applicant to offer your own appraisal. It is appropriate to highlight a special component of a student’s resume and explain why you believe this aspect of the student makes them a great candidate, but don’t waste your opportunity to offer your own valuable endorsement by simply listing the applicant’s accomplishments.

Formatting recommendation letters

After you’ve decided what to write in your recommendation, you will need to decide how to write it. How long should the recommendation be? Should it be written on official letterhead? To whom should it be addressed? Will the letter submitted electronically, or will it be mailed?

Length: Just as there is sometimes no prescribed length for application essays, there is no standard length for recommendation letters. Most recommendations tend to be around 1 to 1.5 single-spaced pages long, although some may be longer if you have a lot to share. Business and law school recommendations tend to be briefer than graduate school recommendations. In general, try to strike a balance between writing too little (which suggests you have nothing to say about the applicant) and writing too much, which may be annoying to audiences who are reading dozens or hundreds of recommendations for a single position.

Letterhead: When possible, write recommendations on official letterhead and sign them using a handwritten signature. Producing letters on official letterhead both adds to your credibility as a recommender and demonstrates that you care enough about the applicant to put finishing touches on your endorsement. This may include sending an envelope with your signature across the seal. Some application programs ask recommenders to compose or paste their recommendations into online forms. In these cases, you would not submit the letter on formal letterhead. Learning in advance how you will need to submit your recommendation can help you avoid unnecessary work and accurately gauge the time required to submit your letter.

Salutation: Address recommendation letters as specifically as possible. If the applicant is applying for a position within a firm or office and you know who will receive the letter, address the letter to that person, like “Dear Dr. Anderson.” If you don’t know who, specifically, will receive the letter, address the recommendation to the target audience, like “Dear Fulbright Committee”. Avoid vacuous salutations like “To Whom it May Concern.” Also avoid informal greetings, including those you might use in an email or other correspondence, like “Hi,” “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” etc. “Dear” is the standard formal salutation in English.

Closing: End the letter with a simple closing word or phrase like “Sincerely,” “Regards,” or “Cordially” or by thanking the audience for considering your endorsement. Avoid personal and emotive language. If you would be willing to answer any additional questions the institution or employer may have about the applicant, it is appropriate to invite them to contact you before closing the letter.

Letters of recommendation inform the decisions of admissions committees, employers, funding agencies, and other organizations who are trying to choose between multiple candidates. Your efforts to create strong letters make a difference.

If you commit to writing a letter of recommendation, follow through. Keep track of deadlines and start early, as you may discover that you need additional information from the student or institution, and you will want to have time to request this information and incorporate it into your recommendation.

Finally, consider whether you are willing to do more than write a recommendation. Students may need help with other parts of their application, such as statements of purpose or writing samples. Since you likely have insight into what graduate programs or employers are looking for, you are in a unique position to help applicants with these other materials as well.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Brown University. n.d. “Writing Letters of Recommendation.” Fellowships and Research. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.brown.edu/academics/college/fellowships/information-resources/writing-letters-recommendation/writing-letters-recommendation .

Madera, Juan M., Michelle R. Hebl, and Randi C. Martin. 2009. “Gender and Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Agentic and Communal Differences.” Journal of Applied Psychology 94 (6): 1591–99. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016539 .

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. n.d. “How to Write Good Letters of Recommendation.” MIT Admissions. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://mitadmissions.org/apply/parents-educators/writingrecs/ .

Stanford University. n.d. “Writing Letters of Recommendation.” Teaching Commons. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching-resources/how-evaluate-students/writing-letters-recommendation.

Yale University. n.d. “Writing Letters of Recommendation.” Fellowships and Funding. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://funding.yale.edu/faculty-staff-recommenders/writing-letters .

Trix, Frances, and Carolyn Psenka. 2003. “Exploring the Color of Glass: Letters of Recommendation for Female and Male Medical Faculty.” Discourse & Society 14 (2): 191–220. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0957926503014002277 .

Whitaker, Manya. 2016. “Tips for Writing Recommendation Letters.” Inside Higher Ed , December 2, 2016. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/12/02/how-write-stronger-letters-recommendation-students-essay .

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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The art of the letter

Strong letters of recommendation require careful preparation from both the requestor and the writer. Here's how to shine in either role.

By Amy Novotney

January 2017, Vol 48, No. 1

Print version: page 62

The art of the letter

The truth is, letters of recommendations can make or break an applicant's acceptance into psychology graduate school, their chances of getting an internship and their ability to get the job of their dreams.

"The letter of recommendation is one of the only places that you really get to know the person between the lines of their CV," says University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, psychology professor Mitch Prinstein, PhD.

Yet many people treat reference letters as minor formalities in the application process, requesting them last-minute and haphazardly, he notes. "Letter writers are often required to discuss an applicant's attention to detail and organizational skills, so it really is so important that the recommendation letter itself is requested with the same level of conscientiousness," he says.

The more applicants can do to make the recommendation letter process easy for the writers—who are typically a supervisor, mentor or professor—the more likely they will be to get a strong letter.

Here are other keys to making letters of recommendation stand out, whether you are the requester or the writer.

Requesting a letter

Choose your author strategically. Figuring out who to ask is the first—and arguably, the most important—step in the process, says John Roberts, PsyD, senior psychologist at Folsom State Prison, who supervised practicum students, interns and postdocs in his previous position at a state hospital. "I always told graduate students that they need to be thinking about their letters of recommendation their first year in the program because to get a great letter, you need to have a visible track record established with someone," he says.

Prinstein advises applicants to request letters only from faculty or supervisors with whom they have a history, such as those they have worked for as a researcher or in a clinical role, or who they have met with several times throughout a semester and established a rapport. "Going to a professor's office hours and asking one question about the material does not give someone enough information to write a good recommendation letter," he says.

For internship recommendation letters in particular, Roberts suggests students start speaking to their supervisors and professors at least a year in advance of the application deadline to get a sense for who would be willing and able to write them the strongest letter.

Ask someone who knows you well—not someone who is well-known. Some applicants think getting an eminent psychologist to write a recommendation may help their application stand out. But actually, this strategy can often have the opposite effect if the letter-writer doesn't know them well, Prinstein says. A letter with few specific insights about a candidate can accidentally be perceived as faint praise, "which is kind of the kiss of death in most application processes," he says. A better option is to get a letter from someone who can capture your personality and work style, he says.

Share your story. University of Texas psychology professor Kevin Harris, PhD, says he will write a letter of recommendation for pretty much anyone who asks as long as they provide him with a brief "cheat sheet" with details about their experience, career goals and the strengths they want him to highlight. "It's good practice for them and it helps me to write a better and more competitive letter for them," he says.

It's also important to share up-to-date CVs or resumes so letter-writers can see what the applicant has been doing since they've worked together, says Julie Austen, PhD, who writes and reviews many recommendation letters as a psychologist with Piedmont Health in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Even if you have been working with them for a while, it might help you speak to the breadth of their experience," she says. "Sometimes I don't realize how much a student is doing beyond my practica or classroom."

Give your writer plenty of time. Make your letter request at least three months before the deadline for a graduate school admission recommendation and two months before a first job application deadline, says Darin Arsenault, PhD, a San Diego clinical psychologist who often writes letters for his trainees.

Then follow up with a gentle reminder email several days before each due date. It's also crucial to provide letter writers with a list of due dates, copies of any required forms and the URL or address for submitting the letter, so that he or she can focus on the content of the letter, and not on where to send it. And don't forget to thank the writer for his or her time and support once they've completed the letter.

Writing a letter

Focus on the facts. Begin with a brief paragraph that outlines the context and how long you've interacted with the applicant, Prinstein says. Discuss only what you know about the candidate—for example, you may be able to say they did well in your class, but don't discuss their qualifications as a researcher or clinician if you're not familiar with their skills in those areas. Also, discuss the candidate's specific qualities that are relevant to the application, and how they compare to others with a similar level of training. Illinois clinical psychologist Erin Liebich, PsyD, says she often discusses a trainee's work ethic, level of independence, and assessment skills and whether they collaborated well with clients, parents and other clinical staff.

"If a trainee has been able to carry a diverse caseload, build upon their experiences and my feedback, and maintain good professional relationships, I typically give them a strong endorsement," she says. 

Bring the applicant to life. The best letters relay a brief anecdote or a rich example of how the applicant stands out, Prinstein says. "The really good letters are the ones that make you feel like you know the person," he says.

Write responsibly. It's also important not to overly praise a student in a recommendation letter, Arsenault says. Identifying a limitation, or "growth edge" and explaining how the graduate program or job could help the individual turn that into a strength can be seen by program and training directors as an important part of professional growth. Overly inflated recommendation letters were one reason why the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Center moved to standardize recommendation letters for applicants in 2016. The new Standardized Reference Form includes a brief section where letter writers discuss areas for growth and development, and is designed to help level the playing field and produce more accurate matches.

Prinstein also advises writers to be honest if they have any reservations about an applicant's abilities. "The admissions process is certainly a good time for us to do a very careful job of deciding who is going to be a best fit to our field and who is not," he says. Share your concerns with the student first, Prinstein says. "But if they ask you to write the letter anyway, it's our duty and responsibility to the public that we're a little more honest in our letters."

Proofread it. Before sending the letter off, read it again. "Taking an extra few minutes can alleviate embarrassing problems and can work to ensure that you are doing the very best on behalf of your student," says Lorna London, PhD, a psychology professor at Roosevelt University.

Additional reading

The Portable Mentor: Expert Guide to a Successful Career in Psychology Prinstein, M.J. & Patterson, M.D., 2003

To the Letter gradPSYCH magazine, www.apa.org/monitor/2015/07-08/graduate-letter

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate School www.apa.org/education/grad/faqs

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5 Best Letter of Recommendation Templates for PhD Students

Letter of Recommendation Templates for PhD Students 01

Are you a PhD student looking for a high-quality letter of recommendation template? Look no further! In this article, we will provide you with examples of tried and true letter of recommendation templates that you can use or edit as needed.

One of the most important parts of any PhD program is the recommendation letter. It can make or break your chance of getting into a program, securing funding, or landing a job. However, writing a solid letter of recommendation can be an arduous task that requires a considerable amount of time and effort. That’s where our letter of recommendation templates come in – they have been carefully crafted to help make the process a lot easier for you.

Whether you need a template for a professor, employer, or advisor, we have got you covered. With our templates, you can be sure that your recommendation letters will be professional, accurate, and persuasive. So why wait? Check out our letter of recommendation templates for PhD students today and take the first step towards success!

The Best Structure for Letter of Recommendation Template for PhD Students

Writing a letter of recommendation for a PhD student can be a daunting task, but don’t worry–with the right structure and language, you can create a glowing recommendation that will showcase the student’s talents and qualifications.

First things first, make sure to address the letter to the appropriate person or group, whether it be a university, scholarship committee, or potential employer. It’s also important to state your relationship to the student, whether you’re their professor, mentor, or colleague.

Next, start off by providing a brief overview of the student’s accomplishments and qualifications, including their field of study and any notable research or publications. From there, delve into specific examples of the student’s intellectual abilities and work ethic. This could include analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, and perseverance in the face of challenges.

It’s also important to address the student’s personal characteristics, such as their leadership qualities, teamwork skills, and communication abilities. Providing anecdotes of times when the student went above and beyond in their academic or professional pursuits can be particularly impactful.

Finally, wrap up the letter with a strong endorsement of the student’s potential for future success, including any specific recommendations for opportunities or programs they would excel in. Reiterate your confidence in the student’s abilities and emphasize how their strengths and qualities make them an asset to any academic or professional community.

Remember, the best recommendation letters are specific, detailed, and personal. Use concrete examples to illustrate the student’s strengths and don’t be afraid to inject some personality and enthusiasm into your writing. With these tips and a solid structure, you’ll be well on your way to crafting an outstanding letter of recommendation for your favorite PhD student.

[Your name]

Letter of Recommendation Templates for PhD Students

Letter of Recommendation Templates for PhD Students

Letter of recommendation for phd program admission.

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am writing to enthusiastically recommend [Student Name] for the PhD program in [Field]. I had the privilege of working with [him/her] as [his/her] research advisor for [duration]. During that time, I observed [his/her] passion for [field of study]. [He/She] possesses the intellectual curiosity, work ethic, and analytical skills necessary for success in the program.

Moreover, [Student Name] demonstrates excellent communication skills and consistently engages in constructive discussions with [his/her] peers and advisors. [He/She] is a quick learner and adapts well to new challenges, which will serve [him/her] well in the highly competitive and rigorous PhD program. I believe [Student Name] has the potential to make significant contributions to the field and I strongly recommend [him/her] for admission to the program.

[Your Name]

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Scholarship

Dear Scholarship Committee,

I am writing to endorse [Student Name] for the [Name of Scholarship] for [Field] PhD studies. In my capacity as [his/her] mentor and research advisor, I have been impressed with [his/her] dedication to [field of study] and [his/her] ability to excel academically despite facing various challenges.

[Student Name] has demonstrated exceptional potential in [areas of interest]. [His/Her] research work has already resulted in several publications in leading journals, which speaks to [his/her] intellectual rigor and analytical skills. [He/She] is also actively involved in various extracurricular activities related to [field of study], such as [Name of Club], where [he/she] has demonstrated leadership and teamwork.

I strongly believe that [Student Name] is an ideal fit for the [Name of Scholarship] based on [his/her] achievements and potential. [He/She] will not only benefit from the financial support but will also make significant contributions to the scholarship and [field of study].

Yours sincerely,

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Job Application

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am writing this letter to recommend [Student Name] for the position of [Job Title] at your organization. I had the pleasure of working with [him/her] as [his/her] supervisor during [duration] at [Company/Organization]. [He/She] was a valuable asset to our team, demonstrating impressive intellectual and analytical skills.

[Student Name] has an outstanding academic record and has already published several research papers in leading journals. Moreover, [he/she] has honed exceptional communication skills and has presented [his/her] work at various conferences. [He/She] has also demonstrated leadership skills, both in academic and extracurricular settings. [His/Her] experience in [specific skills related to job] and [related experience] also make [him/her] a perfect candidate for the position.

Based on [his/her] achievements and potential, I strongly recommend [Student Name] for the position. [He/She] will undoubtedly exceed your expectations and make significant contributions to your organization.

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Internship

Dear Internship Coordinator,

I am writing this letter to recommend [Student Name] for the PhD Internship Program at your organization. I had the pleasure of working with [him/her] as [his/her] research advisor for [duration]. During that time, [he/she] demonstrated exceptional research skills and a keen interest in [specific field of study related to internship].

[Student Name] has already published several research papers in leading journals and has presented [his/her] work at various conferences. [He/She] has also demonstrated strong leadership and teamwork skills, as evidenced by [specific example]. [His/Her] exceptional communication skills also make [him/her] a great fit for the internship, where [he/she] will likely collaborate with a diverse group of people.

Based on [his/her] research achievements and potential, I strongly recommend [Student Name] for the internship program. [He/She] is an excellent candidate who will no doubt make significant contributions to your organization. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Fellowship

Dear Fellowship Committee,

I am writing to enthusiastically recommend [Student Name] for the [Name of Fellowship] for [Field] PhD studies. I worked with [him/her] as [his/her] research advisor for [duration], during which I observed [his/her] exceptional research skills and intellectual curiosity.

[Student Name] has already published several research papers in leading journals and has presented [his/her] work at various conferences. [He/She] has also actively engaged in various extracurricular activities related to [field of study], such as [Name of Club/Community], where [he/she] has demonstrated leadership and teamwork. Overall, [he/she] is a dedicated and passionate researcher with a unique perspective and approach to [field of study].

I strongly believe that [Student Name] is an exemplary fit for the [Name of Fellowship] based on [his/her] achievements and potential. [He/She] will not only benefit from the financial support but will also make significant contributions to the fellowship and [field of study].

Letter of Recommendation for PhD Research Proposal

Dear Research Committee,

I am writing to endorse [Student Name]’s proposed research project for [duration] in [field of study]. [He/She] has approached me with [his/her] ideas and I have been thoroughly impressed with [his/her] creativity, vision, and rigor in designing the proposal.

[Student Name] is an outstanding researcher with significant experience in [related skills/expertise]. [He/She] is highly motivated and passionate about [field of study], demonstrated by [relevant examples]. Moreover, [he/she] has excellent communication and leadership skills, which will undoubtedly be useful in working with other researchers and stakeholders.

Based on [his/her] research achievements and proposed project, I strongly recommend [Student Name] for the research program. [He/She] is an excellent candidate who will no doubt make significant contributions to the project and advance knowledge in [field of study]. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Best regards,

Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation Template for PhD Students

Writing a letter of recommendation for a PhD student can be a challenging task. As a recommender, it’s essential to ensure that your letter truly represents the student’s abilities, potential, and achievements. To help you create an effective letter of recommendation, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get to know the student: Before you start writing the letter, take some time to learn more about the student. Understand their research, their academic achievements, and their aspirations. This will help you write a more personalized and impactful letter.
  • Focus on achievements: When writing your letter, highlight the student’s achievements and the impact of their research. This will demonstrate their value and potential to the admissions committee or potential employer.
  • Provide examples: Use specific examples to illustrate your points. This will help the reader understand the student’s strengths and accomplishments. It’s also a good idea to include examples of challenges the student faced and how they overcame them.
  • Be honest: Don’t exaggerate the student’s accomplishments or abilities. Be honest and provide a balanced view of their strengths and weaknesses. Admissions committees and employers value letters that are transparent and authentic.
  • Be concise: Keep your letter brief and to the point. You don’t want to overwhelm the reader with unnecessary details. Focus on the most significant accomplishments and areas of strength.
  • Use a professional format: Use a professional format for your letter, starting with a formal greeting and closing. Address the letter to the appropriate person, and include the student’s name and program details.
  • Proofread: Before submitting your letter, make sure to proofread it carefully. Correct any errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation, and ensure that the letter is structured well and easy to read.
  • End with a strong recommendation: End your letter with a strong recommendation for the student. Be confident in your endorsement, and close by offering to provide further information or support if needed.

Writing a letter of recommendation for a PhD student requires careful attention to detail and a clear understanding of the student’s strengths and potential. By following these tips, you can create a compelling letter that highlights the student’s achievements and positions them as a strong candidate for their desired program or career path. Remember, honesty, specificity, and professionalism are key elements of an effective letter of recommendation.

Well, there you have it, folks! A letter of recommendation template for PhD students! I hope this has been helpful in alleviating some of the stress associated with asking for letters of recommendation. Remember to personalize the template with your own unique accomplishments and achievements. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to show your personality through your writing. And always, always, always show gratitude to those who have taken the time to write a letter for you. Thank you for reading and be sure to visit us again for more useful tips and tricks. Wishing you all the best on your academic journey!

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Before applying, confirm that three faculty members or others qualified to evaluate your potential for graduate study have agreed to submit letters of recommendation on your behalf. At least one letter should be from a faculty member at the school where you earned your most recent degree, unless you have been out of school for more than five years. 

Your recommenders must submit their letters through the recommender portal by the application deadline: Harvard Griffin GSAS does not accept letters submitted via email, mail, or a dossier service. 

During the application process, you will be asked whether you wish to waive your right to see these letters. By law, enrolled students have the right to view their letters of recommendation unless they indicate otherwise at the time of application. Learn more about your right to inspect letters of recommendation . 

Can I submit my application before my recommenders submit their letters? 

Yes. Please remember that letters of recommendation must be received by the graduate program’s application deadline. 

How many letters of recommendation can be included in my application? 

Harvard Griffin GSAS requires three letters of recommendation. You may ask additional recommenders to submit letters if you choose, however, it is not guaranteed that the admissions committee will review additional letters. 

What if my recommender is unable to submit a letter in English?

If you have a recommender who is unable to submit a letter in English, they can choose to obtain a certified English translation of their letter. The recommender would need to upload a copy of their original letter in the language it was written, a copy of the English translation of the letter, and verification from the professional translator certifying the translation. Translations must be literal and complete versions of the original record. Harvard Griffin GSAS does not endorse a specific translator or translation service.

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Letter of Recommendation Examples for Graduate School

It is a letter of recommendation written by your undergraduate professor, supervisor, mentor, manager, etc. that highlights your academic performance, personal qualities, capabilities, and accomplishments that make you a good fit for a particular graduate school or program.

These letters primarily serve one purpose, they are a form of peer-to-peer advice. They are required explicitly by an academic program and are usually sent directly to the graduate program faculty without the applicant seeing them. This means that the professor can provide the graduate program faculty with an assessment of your potential as a graduate student and a researcher from an objective perspective, helping them make an informed decision about accepting you into their program over the other qualified applicants.

It plays a significant role in helping you secure an admission offer. If you have any weak areas in your application

A slightly below-average GPA, a positive and detailed letter from your undergraduate supervisor can influence the admissions committee to consider you over other applicants.

This is why it is important to understand how to secure strong and impressive recommendations from competent recommenders.

Graduate School Recommendation Letter Examples

Customizable Graduate School Recommendation Letter Template 01 for Word Document

When to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

Undergraduate professors and other professionals usually receive countless requests for such letters from other students. To secure an enthusiastic and positive document, you should give your contact plenty of lead time to write it. Ideally, it is a great idea to ask for it at least one month or more before the application deadline. 

If your recommender is a college professor, you should also be mindful of their schedule and current state of mind, as crafting such letters takes time. Balancing between planning lectures, advising students, grading college essays, and finding some free time to provide a positive recommendation letter for a particular student can be overwhelming for the professor. Therefore, you should ask for it at the beginning of the semester, rather than mid-semester or towards the end of the semester.

You should also consider asking for it during your professor’s working hours. You should never ask them outside of their office hours, as this may seem unprofessional. You should always ask them in person and be clear about what you ask and how the letter fits your educational and professional goals. If they seem reluctant to write you a positive letter, do not push the matter. Instead, consider requesting another professor who is more than willing to write a positive recommendation for you. 

Who to Ask?

Getting the right professor, supervisor, or college advisor to write you this letter can be difficult. These letters play a significant role in helping you get an admission offer. You should consider choosing a recommender who can discuss your abilities, competencies, and personal traits in a coherent way to maximize your admission odds.

The following guidelines will help you know whom to ask for it for graduate school:

Someone who knows you well

Your recommender should be someone you have spent time with within class and outside of the classroom. They should be able to speak about your career goals and aspirations and should hold a favorable opinion of your personal qualities and capabilities.

A professor who directs and advises your extracurricular activity club, such as the debate club, volleyball team, etc., can make an excellent reference.

Someone you’ve known for a long time

Reach out to a recommender who has known you for at least one or more years to ensure that the letter impacts the admissions board. The recommender must also hold a current perspective on you. Thus, a teacher from several years ago is not a good choice.

Who is related to the program you are applying for

A college professor who has background knowledge of the discipline or program you want to pursue can make a good reference. This is because they know and can speak to the specific qualities needed to succeed in that course or career line. As a result, the admissions board will trust the individual’s evaluation and perspective of you, and they will be more willing to admit you into the program.

A professor at the school granting your undergraduate degree, a professor with the degree you are seeking, a supervisor at a job or internship related to your graduate program, and a professor who has academically evaluated you in a class related to the program can provide good recommendation letters.

Someone who has seen your successes

A person who has witnessed some of your most significant achievements or seen you demonstrate high levels of initiative, commitment, hard work, and teamwork can also provide an effective document. Include specific examples of achievements in the letter. A person who has witnessed your accomplishments can give a first-hand account of what you can do and the value you will add to the graduate program faculty.

An effective communicator

Your recommender should be able to craft a strongly-worded and persuasive letter to convince the admissions board or committee to offer you admission into the desired program. A well-crafted, enthusiastic letter from a college professor may not only get you into a graduate program but may also persuade the department faculty to give you a tuition scholarship or paid employment to help you settle your school fees. Hence, you should always consider recommenders who are more generous, organized, and enthusiastic, and those who can write a memorable letter.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

While, as an applicant, you cannot control what your recommender writes in the letter or ensure the document is submitted before the application deadline, there are certain things you can do to make the process as successful and efficient as possible. How you ask for it can also impact the quality and type of response you receive from your potential references.

Here is a detailed guide on how to ask for it for graduate school:

Ask in person

Writing it is a big favor. Consequently, your approach to making a request should always be respectful and formal, and you should express gratitude. Asking for such requests in person is usually advocated for, as it helps the recommender gain a deeper understanding of how your motivation aligns with that of the graduate program.

Here are some useful tips for asking for a recommendation in person:

Ask the recommender if they would provide the letter

It is considered standard practice to have a conversation before you submit your written request for a recommendation. This is to ensure that your chosen contact is willing and available to write the letter. Thus, schedule a meeting with your chosen contact and politely ask them if they would be willing to write this letter for you. If they are unwilling or seem reluctant, consider asking another person from your list of potential recommenders. 

Arrange a meeting

If the recommender is willing to provide you with a strong recommendation, schedule a one-on-one meeting appointment . This demonstrates that you respect your professor’s time and that you are taking your graduate school application seriously. During the meeting, clarify to your supervisor why you chose them to recommend you and why you value their honest assessment of your academic life and personal qualities. To convince them further, state how your experience and interactions with them have contributed to who you are today, what you have achieved, and, if applicable, how they have influenced your decision to pursue the specific graduate program.

Give a copy of your resume, transcripts, and personal statement

You should provide your recommender with sufficient details and crucial information to enable them to tailor this letter to reinforce your cover letter, personal statement, and resume. Consider giving them a copy of your current resume, copies of your transcripts, your cover letter, personal statement, details of the program to which you are applying, and any other essential information to help them understand your background and interests.

Provide a list of your achievements and abilities

Next, refresh the memory of your recommender by providing them with a list of achievements and abilities that you would like them to highlight in the letter to increase your chances of getting an interview with the graduate school’s admission board.

If you are seeking admission into an MBA in a tech-related course, you can request that your recommender highlight your computer-savvy skills, such as programming, and coding, and the awards or achievements you have received in the specific field.

Provide a list of your extracurricular and volunteer activities

Most higher-learning academic institutions prefer candidates who are well-rounded scholars. Therefore, your professor will need to highlight your extracurricular and volunteer activities in the recommendation letter to help strengthen your application. If you have participated in any of these activities, be sure to provide your supervisor with a detailed list of the activities and your relevant accomplishments.

Provide a list of graduate schools you are applying to

If you are applying to various graduate schools, you can provide your recommender with a list of the schools and details of their program to help them customize each letter to the particular school.

Give receiver details

The letter will need to incorporate the recipient’s details. This includes the school’s name, address line, admitting professor’s name, etc.

Give a deadline to submit the letter

The admission board will most likely disregard application materials received after the institution’s stipulated submission deadlines, and this will paint a negative picture of how the admitting team perceives your recommender. It is essential that you give the recommender a deadline to submit the letter to enable them to plan their time well and submit it on time.

Send an email

Although the best way to ask for it is in person, sometimes it might be impossible to meet with your recommender face to face. In such cases, sending a professional email might be considered an appropriate option. However, the email method is only advisable if you know the recommender well enough. However, if you have someone in mind that you haven’t seen or spoken to recently, then it is essential that you meet with them in person to discuss your request.

Essential Elements of a Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

It will typically cover a range of skills- from academic abilities to research experiences and applied experiences in and out of the classroom.

The letter will generally include the following essential elements:

  • A brief description of who the recommender is, why they are qualified to recommend you, and their professional relationship with you
  • A description of why the recommender thinks you are the perfect fit for the program, using specific examples and anecdotes to validate their claims
  • Specific examples of your greatest accomplishments and personal qualities while in undergraduate school
  • A comparison with your peers, i.e., what makes you qualified for the graduate school program over the other qualified applicants
  • What the recommender knows about the program or course you are applying to.

Graduate School Recommendation Letter Template

[Your Name]

[Your Job Title]

[Your Institution/Organization]

[Institution/Organization Address]

[City, State, Zip]

[Your Email Address]

[Your Phone Number]

[Admissions Committee or Specific Person’s Name, if known]

[Graduate Program Name or Department]

[University Name]

[University Address]

Dear [Admissions Committee or Specific Person’s Name],

I am writing to wholeheartedly recommend [Applicant’s Name] for admission to your [specific graduate program name] at [University Name]. As [Your Relationship to the Applicant, e.g., “their professor for X courses” or “their supervisor at Y organization”], I have had the pleasure of witnessing [Applicant’s Name]’s remarkable growth and academic/professional achievements over the [duration of your relationship with the applicant].

[Applicant’s Name] has consistently demonstrated exceptional abilities in [mention specific skills or areas, e.g., “critical thinking, research, and analytical skills”]. For instance, in [mention a specific project, course, or task], they [describe what the applicant did, highlighting their responsibilities, achievements, and the skills they demonstrated]. This experience showcased not only [Applicant’s Name]’s solid grasp of [mention the relevant subject or field] but also their capacity for [mention important qualities, e.g., “innovative problem-solving and dedication to excellence”].

Beyond [his/her/their] academic prowess, [Applicant’s Name] exhibits qualities that I believe will make [him/her/them] a valuable contributor to [University Name]’s academic community. [He/She/They] is [mention personal qualities, e.g., “a natural leader, highly motivated, and possesses an unwavering commitment to personal and professional development”]. [Provide an example that illustrates these qualities, if possible].

[Applicant’s Name]’s passion for [mention the field or subject] is evident in [his/her/their] [mention any relevant projects, research, or interests]. [He/She/They] has a clear vision for how [he/she/they] plans to use the education and experiences gained from your program to [mention the applicant’s goals or potential contributions to the field].

In conclusion, I have no doubt that [Applicant’s Name] will excel in your graduate program and contribute significantly to your academic community. [His/Her/Their] dedication, intelligence, and work ethic set [him/her/them] apart as an outstanding candidate. I strongly endorse [his/her/their] application and look forward to [his/her/their] continued achievements, which I am confident [he/she/they] will find at [University Name].

Please feel free to contact me at [Your Phone Number] or via email at [Your Email Address] should you require any further information or have any questions regarding [Applicant’s Name]’s application.

Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School (Sample Letters)

Dear Members of the Admissions Committee,

I am writing with great enthusiasm to recommend Emily Chen for admission into the Master’s Program in Communication at Prestige University. As Emily’s professor in several advanced communications courses and her academic advisor at City University, I have witnessed her profound commitment to her studies, her exceptional research skills, and her ability to communicate complex ideas with clarity and creativity.

Emily has consistently demonstrated her passion for communications, particularly in digital media and public relations, through her outstanding academic performance and involvement in extracurricular activities. One of her most notable achievements was her capstone project, which focused on the impact of social media on brand reputation. Her research was not only rigorous but also innovative, incorporating a comprehensive analysis of social media trends and their implications for public relations strategies. This project underscored her ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical challenges, a skill that will serve her well in graduate studies and beyond.

Beyond her academic prowess, Emily exhibits qualities that I believe are essential for success in the field of communication. She is a natural leader, as evidenced by her role as the president of our university’s Communications Club, where she spearheaded initiatives to enhance student engagement and professional development. Her leadership in organizing a successful panel discussion on the future of digital media brought together industry professionals, faculty, and students, facilitating a meaningful dialogue on a topic of great relevance.

Emily’s dedication to her personal and professional development is matched by her genuine desire to contribute to the broader community. She has volunteered her skills to several non-profit organizations, developing social media campaigns that have significantly increased their visibility and impact. Her ability to leverage digital platforms to foster community engagement is just one example of her strategic and empathetic approach to communication.

I have no doubt that Emily will bring the same level of excellence, dedication, and innovation to the Master’s Program in Communication at Prestige University. Her academic background, combined with her practical experience and personal qualities, make her an ideal candidate for your program. I am confident that she will not only benefit from but also contribute significantly to the academic community at Prestige University.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information or insights regarding Emily’s application. I am eager to see the contributions she will undoubtedly make to the field of communication and am confident that she will excel in your graduate program.

Dr. Alicia Ramirez

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am writing to recommend Jordan Lee, a distinguished graduate of University City College, for admission to the Master’s Program in Sociology at Prestige University. As Jordan’s professor in several upper-level sociology courses and supervisor for their undergraduate thesis, I have had ample opportunity to observe their academic rigor, intellectual curiosity, and unwavering dedication to the field of sociology.

Jordan has consistently demonstrated exceptional analytical skills and a profound understanding of sociological theories and methodologies. Their coursework, particularly in areas of social stratification and race relations, has not only been exemplary in terms of academic rigor but also indicative of a deep engagement with the material and a genuine desire to contribute to our understanding of societal dynamics.

One of Jordan’s most notable accomplishments is their undergraduate thesis, titled “Digital Communities and Social Identity,” which explored the impact of online platforms on youth identity formation. This ambitious project showcased Jordan’s ability to conduct comprehensive research, apply complex theoretical frameworks, and communicate findings with clarity and insight. Their work has been recognized as a significant contribution to the department, exemplifying potential for further scholarly research in graduate studies.

Beyond their academic achievements, Jordan has actively contributed to the university community. They served as president of the Sociology Club, organizing events that bridged academic learning with practical social issues, thereby enhancing the intellectual life of the campus. Jordan’s leadership and initiative in these roles have been commendable, demonstrating their commitment to applying sociological insights to effect positive change.

Jordan’s passion for sociology is matched by their compassion and empathy towards others. They possess a unique ability to understand diverse perspectives, making them not only an outstanding student but also a valued member of any academic community. Their ethical approach to research and dedication to social justice are qualities that I believe will serve them well in graduate studies and beyond.

I have no doubt that Jordan will excel in the Master’s Program in Sociology at Prestige University. Their intellectual curiosity, combined with a solid foundation in sociological research and theory, makes them an ideal candidate for your program. I strongly endorse their application and am confident that Jordan will make significant contributions to the field of sociology.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information or insights regarding Jordan’s qualifications and character.

Dr. Emily Thompson

Associate Professor of Sociology

University City College

Key Takeaways

The sample recommendation letters provide thorough endorsements of the candidates’ academic achievements, personal qualities, and potential contributions to their respective fields. Both letters are effective for several reasons:

Strong Academic Endorsement: Both letters provide a comprehensive overview of the candidate’s academic achievements, highlighting their exceptional performance in relevant courses, research projects, and extracurricular activities. This demonstrates the candidates’ academic aptitude and dedication to their field of study.

Specific Examples: Each letter includes specific examples of the candidate’s accomplishments and contributions, such as capstone projects, thesis titles, and leadership roles. These concrete examples provide evidence of the candidates’ skills, knowledge, and potential for success in graduate studies.

Personal Qualities: The letters also touch upon the candidates’ personal qualities and character traits, such as leadership, empathy, and dedication to social justice. This holistic view of the candidates helps the admissions committee assess their suitability for the program and their potential to contribute positively to the academic community.

Professional Tone: Both letters maintain a professional tone throughout, with clear and concise language used to convey the writer’s endorsement of the candidate. This professionalism enhances the credibility of the recommendations and reflects positively on the candidates.

Endorsement of Fit: Each letter explicitly states the writer’s confidence in the candidate’s suitability for the Master’s Program at Prestige University, emphasizing their academic background, personal qualities, and potential for further scholarly research. This endorsement of fit strengthens the candidates’ applications and aligns with the admissions committee’s criteria for selection.

Overall, these recommendation letters effectively advocate for the candidates’ admission to the Master’s Program at Prestige University by providing a thorough and compelling endorsement of their academic achievements, personal qualities, and potential for success in graduate studies.

Tips for Getting an Impressive Recommendation Letter

To get a strong and positive letter from your selected recommenders, consider the following useful tips:

Give your recommender ample time to write the letter

If you ask your college professor to write you this letter right away, they may be unwilling to accept the offer, or they most likely will provide a recommendation that does not strongly endorse your candidacy, which is worse than no recommendation at all. As such, a few weeks’ notice before the application deadline date is considered sufficient to write a detailed, impactful letter.

Choose the best from all your recommenders

When asking for it from someone, you must choose the right person. Someone who knows you well enough to vouch for your candidacy can be persuasive enough to encourage the admissions board to offer you an opportunity at their school.

You will also want to consider someone who can speak to your specific strengths and describe how these strengths will serve you well in the graduate program, rather than a recommender who will simply write a letter that states specific skills with no supporting evidence. Admissions committees want to know how you would benefit their program, so you want reference letters that will help bring that to life.

Shape your letter

Most recommenders tend to create generic letters for all the students, and then customize them before submitting them to the graduate faculty program. Such letters usually don’t help the student stand out from the competition. You can avoid this by providing your recommender with all the necessary information to craft a strong letter and asking them to emphasize certain things in the letter

Specific skills, relevant accomplishments, or unique circumstances you overcame to succeed as an undergraduate.

Waive your right to review the letter

These letters are supposed to be sent to the admission board without the student reviewing them. While it might be tempting to want to know what your recommender wrote about you, it is essential to waive your right to review the letter to encourage the recommender to provide a more candid document. Besides, the admissions board will know your writers felt free to objectively assess your academics, making the letter more impactful.

Be organized

For your recommender to provide the most comprehensive letter, you need to provide them with as much information on the qualifications that make you suitable for the program as is necessary. You can provide them with your application documents, such as your resume, academic transcripts, your achievements, research experience, internships, experiences you’ve shared with them, and academic and career goals, as well as all the information that the recommender may need to plan the writing promptly and target the letter as much as possible. You also need to foster relationships with potential referees and request recommendations early enough to avoid last-minute rushes and unwillingness from potential recommenders.

Thank your recommender

Regardless of the result of your application to a graduate school, you should always inform your recommenders of the outcome. A well-written thank-you letter, email, or card, expressing your gratitude for the recommender’s help is considered appropriate. This is important as it encourages the professor to provide you with future reference letters when the need arises.

Frequently Asked Questions

Generally, these letters should be written by someone who knows you well academically. Faculty members, research supervisors, and undergraduate academic advisors are often the most qualified to provide such letters. However, other professionals, such as an employer who has known and supervised you for at least six months and above, can also provide a strong letter. However, the employer must have specialized in a program related to the course you are applying for or work in a field related to the course you want to pursue.

It should always be written in more than two paragraphs. Anything less than two shows that you have no clue what the person’s academic performance is overall and that you don’t know much about them. Although you don’t want to write less than two paragraphs, you should also avoid writing more than one page because you want to keep it on point and be focused on only a few key points.

In it, you essentially include a comprehensive summary of the individual’s achievements and academic performance. The only difference in writing this letter is that this particular letter is only well written by a professor at a college or university.

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Megan Morgan

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Letters of Recommendation


As an English teacher and college counselor working with high school students, I've had the privilege and responsibility of writing letters of recommendation. Starting out, I had a strong urge to help, but no clear sense of what exactly should go into a reference letter. If they all speak to students' impressive qualities and accomplishments, what makes some letters stand out among the rest?

To answer this question, I researched recommendation letters from both sides of the college process, drawing on the advice of high school counselors and teachers and the perspective of college admissions officers. I also read dozens of recommendation letters, from the ones that admissions committees loved to the ones that were cast aside as mediocre, useless, or straight up negative about a student.

This article compiles the most important lessons I learned through this research and my own work supporting students through the college process. Read on for a discussion of what exactly needs to go into the kind of rec letter that effectively advocates for a student and boosts her admissions chances.

First, let's take a deeper look at what purpose recommendation letters serve when they arrive before an admissions committee.

The Goal: What's the Purpose of Letters of Recommendation?

Admissions officers put a lot of weight on recommendation letters. Especially in selective admissions, when thousands of qualified students are competing for a limited number of spots, reference letters can go a long way toward differentiating one student from another. According to Harvard dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons, recommendation letters are "extremely important" and are read "with great care" (often projected onto large screens in front of the whole committee!).

So what are all these carefully reading admissions officers looking for? Two main features. The first is an insightful, in-depth story of the student that reveals both her academic skills and personal qualities. As a teacher, you're in a great position to comment on a student's intellectual curiosity, creativity, and attitude towards learning.

Additionally, you can speak to a student's admirable personal qualities, like her sense of integrity, compassion, and leadership skills, to name a few. This in-depth look gives an admissions committee a holistic view of your student beyond the grades and clubs listed on their application. It helps the student come to life.

The second main feature that admissions committees typically look for is a student's potential to contribute positively to the college community , as well as to succeed after graduation. In your recommendation, you can state your confidence about a student's success on campus and future achievement.

Certain qualities are especially impressive to admissions officers and hint at success in college, though this might vary somewhat by individual. Some of these qualities include love of learning, academic commitment, communication skills, commitment to mastery of a specific skill or area, and leadership capacity.

Since these personal qualities may not be apparent on the rest of the application (apart from the student's own personal essay), the letters of recommendation can go a long way toward describing a student's best traits. Plus, they show that a student has teachers who are motivated to advocate for her.

Of course, hopefully no one would agree to recommend a student and then write bad, sabotaging things in the recommendation letter. It's generally safe to assume that all recommenders want to support students in continuing their education. But mediocre letters can often be just as bad as ones that are outright critical, and merely "good letters" pale in comparison to excellent ones. So what must go into a letter of recommendation to make it particularly strong and effective?


How to Write a Strong Letter of Recommendation

The strongest letters of recommendation take time and thought to craft. They're individualized to each student and are thoughtfully revised for word choice and flow of ideas. First and foremost, what content is essential for a strong letter of recommendation?

Include Key Content

Perhaps the best way to describe what a letter of rec should include is to start out by describing what it shouldn't include. A rec letter should not simply be a restatement of a student's grades, clubs, and awards. All of these facts and figures should already be stated on the student's application.

The most ineffective rec letters just repeat a student's resume. Admissions officers are hoping for deep insights into a student's character, rather than a list of data points that could apply to any number of students.

This is not to say that recommenders shouldn't mention what a student has achieved or been involved in, but they shouldn't feel compelled to list every single accomplishment. Instead, writers can point to a specific involvement or story that demonstrates something meaningful about the student.

For instance, you might be writing about Michael, whose powerful commitment to equality and education led him to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. In this way, you're discussing something a student has done to illuminate something significant and admirable about his character and motivations. Speaking about his establishment of the GSA is more illustrative than simply stating that he's committed to equality and social justice.

So if reiterating the student's grades and activities (i.e., resume points) shouldn't go into the rec letter, what should? MIT offers an insightful breakdown of the questions its admissions officers would like answers to in a letter. These questions are a useful guide for recommenders writing to any college.

  • What is the context of your relationship with the applicant? 
  • Has the student demonstrated a willingness to take intellectual risks and go beyond the normal classroom experience?
  • Does the applicant have any unusual competence, talent, or leadership abilities?
  • What motivates this person? What excites him/her?
  • How does the applicant interact with teachers? With peers? Describe his/her personality and social skills.
  • What will you remember most about this person?
  • Has the applicant ever experienced disappointment or failure? If so, how did he/she react?
  • Are there any unusual family or community circumstances of which we should be aware?

Source: MIT Admissions

A recommender doesn't necessarily have to answer all of these questions, but they're great starting points for brainstorming. They shift the focus from what a student does to what a student is like, in terms of her intellectual curiosity, specific skills or talents, passions, and personality. Some other impressive qualities include communication skills, resourcefulness, and innovative problem-solving. Admissions committees often also look for demonstrated leadership and the ability to collaborate with others in an interactive and diverse environment.

Beyond these personal qualities, letter writers might speak to unusual circumstances or challenges that the student has faced or survived. These can be especially meaningful to explain a dip in academic performance or to show how a student has overcome hardship. I would advise getting the student's permission before including personal family information, just to make sure she's comfortable with you sharing it.

Finally, a recommender may want to demonstrate her own familiarity with the school to which the student is applying. If the school is particularly competitive, then you might express your confidence in the student's ability to thrive in an academically rigorous environment. If you're an alum of the school, then you can believably assert your confidence that the student would be a strong cultural fit. 

The strongest recommendation letters give insight into a student's intellectual orientation, motivations, and personal qualities. As a writer, how can you rave about your student in a sincere, genuine, and convincing way? One of the best ways to accomplish this is to focus your recommendation on the student's best assets.


Highlight your student's most important strengths.

Highlight the Most Important Themes

Just as you don't have to feel compelled to repeat every grade, club, and award on the student's resume, you also don't have to speak about every quality that makes the student great. In fact, well-rounded students aren't necessarily what the most competitive schools are looking for. While selective schools look for academic excellence in most subjects, what they really appreciate is a student's singular commitment to a specific and distinct area.

Developing a "big spike" in a certain area shows passion, dedication, and the ability to sustain long-term focus . As PrepScholar co-founder and Harvard alum Allen Cheng writes , top colleges are looking for students who are going to change the world. They're expecting deep achievement, and the best predictor of that is deep achievement in high school. Therefore admissions committees are especially impressed by a "huge spike" in science, writing, athletics, or whatever your commitment might be. 

Of course, not all or even the majority of students are applying to Ivy League schools, but the takeaway message still applies. Recommendation letters don't have to present the student as well-rounded and good at everything they do. Instead, they can paint a specific picture and highlight the qualities that are most important to understanding who the student is and what drives her actions.

Some letters may highlight that a student is a top scholar, while others may speak to a student's leadership skills. Some may focus in on the student's passion for volunteer work, or her talent in acting, art, music, or athletics. For students with extensive international experience, recommenders may rave about their multicultural, global perspective or unusual maturity and sophistication.

Other students may have had to overcome hardships in their life, and the recommender could speak to their resilience and strength as a survivor. As mentioned above, I would suggest discussing this kind of content with the student to make sure she's comfortable sharing it with admissions commitees. All in all, a recommender can brainstorm a list of the student's best assets (with the aid of the student's resume and " brag sheet "), and zero in on the most important themes.

What if the student hasn't demonstrated interest in a particular area, but you're excited to see her further explore her interests in college? In this case, you could write earnestly about the student's room to grow and the potential you see in her. At the same time, be careful with this kind of wording, as it may suggest different things to different admissions officers. If you really feel not able or qualified to provide the student with a recommendation that will help her admission chances, then you should  respectfully decline or suggest someone else better able to write her letter.

Once you've chosen the most important themes to highlight about a student, you can think about specific stories, experiences, or observations that demonstrate those strengths. The best recommendation letters "show," rather than just "tell."


Bring your letter to life with meaningful stories and examples.

Give Specific Examples

Which sentence paints a better picture in the mind of the reader?

a) Kate is a strong writer. b) Due to Kate's superlative writing and analytical skills, I'll be using her year-long thesis on representations of gender in  Jane Eyre as an example of the highest quality work to students in my future AP English classes.

The second uses more powerful words, but more importantly it gives a specific example , thereby proving that Kate has strong writing skills. It explains the grounds on which the teacher draws her conclusion that Kate is a good writer. It additionally suggests that Kate can sustain focus in a long-term project and impressed the teacher so much that her thesis became a model for future students.

The best recommendation letters support their praise of a student with specific anecdotes and observations. These stories accomplish a few things. One, they support the writer's claims. Rather than just listing adjectives, the writer backs up her description with examples.

Secondly, they make the letter more interesting and help the student come to life in the eyes of admissions officers. Officers may be up all night reading through applications. The last thing they want is a generic, boring recommendation letter that blends into all the others. Interesting stories make both the letter and the student pop .

Finally, the use of specific stories proves that the recommender is, in fact, qualified to assess the student. The best letters come from teachers who know a student well. Sharing anecdotes and observations prove that you've gotten to know the student thoroughly and your evaluation of her is trustworthy and reliable.

In addition to sharing examples, you should take the time to be intentional with your word choice. Consider which phrases and adjectives will present the clearest and strongest endorsement of the student.


Dance, words, dance!

Use Powerful Words 

As with any piece of writing, the best recommendation letters are eloquent, clear, and don't fall into the trap of cliches. Calling someone a go-getter with a heart of gold who leaves no stone unturned and is a friend to all may elicit a yawn or eye roll from the admissions officer. 

Often finding just the right word happens in the revision stage. Check if you wrote interesting when creative or innovative would work better. Keep an eye out for nice when you meant to dive into a student's unique empathy or compassion for others. Perhaps you wrote hard worker when intellectual risk-taker would more accurately describe the student.

Some words and phrases that can be used to described a student's academic strengths include  insightful, analytical, curious, observant, innovative, or mastery of a specific subject area.  Others that fall more in the arena of personal and professional strengths include  mature, flexible, generous, empathetic, leader, versatile, ethical, motivated, ambitious, resourceful , and strong communication skills.

Admissions officers have read hundreds, if not thousands, of recommendation letters, and they're used to reading between the lines. Be intentional with your wording so you don't accidentally communicate something negative about the student. For instance, a phrase like " leads by example " or " excels at working independently " could indicate that the student keeps to herself and has trouble working with others.

While it's more important to be authentic and not worry too much about what an admissions officer may or may not think, this mindset can help you be purposeful with what you say and how you say it in your letter. You can also keep an eye out for sounding over the top with your phrase. While the best letters rave about their students, they have the examples to back up their praise. Simply listing superlative adjectives could come off as overblown and insincere.

A second technique that may impress admissions officers is the use of a high ranking. 


Rank the Student Highly, When Appropriate

Consider these ranking statements:

Carla is the most talented and driven math student I have taught in my twenty years at High School High. James is one of the top three students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching.

An impressive ranking, like the two above, certainly communicates a strong vote of confidence in a student , especially if it comes from a teacher with hundreds of students to compare her recommendee to. If your student is applying to a selective or Ivy League school, then a powerful ranking can go a long way toward testifying to a student's outstanding achievement and qualities.

On the other hand, a ranking like "above average" or "relatively strong effort compared to her peers" may do more harm than good. If you can genuinely provide a statement of high ranking, then you can help the student by including it. If not, then it's probably advisable to leave that kind of statement out of your letter. 

Apart from a statement of ranking, there are a few other key components to include in your letter of recommendation. While you can be creative and customize your letters to each student, there are a few essential pieces of information that you should include in all your letters.


Include all essential elements.

State All Essential Information

There are a few necessary pieces of information to include in all recommendation letters that I touched on briefly at the beginning of this article. The first is an explicit statement of who you're recommending. If you can customize your letter for each college, all the better. Second, you should state who you are , your position at the school, and the contexts in which you've gotten to know the applicant. 

If you've gotten to know the student both in class for a year and as editor of the school newspaper, then this shows you've taught and supervised her in different contexts and are especially qualified to evaluate her. Admissions officers usually prefer recommendations from junior year teachers , as they had the student recently and for a whole year. A senior year teacher probably doesn't know the student very well yet, and sophomore and freshman year was too far in the past. Exceptions to this general rule include having the student for more than one year or supervising her in other capacities, like clubs or sports. 

You can begin the letter with a creative or catchy hook, or a more straightforward statement of endorsement, as long as you include these key components in the introduction. Here are a few examples.

It is my great pleasure to provide this recommendation for Kate, who I enjoyed teaching and getting to know as her 11th grade AP U.S. History teacher.

I have known Joe since 2012 in my position as Lincoln High School's Biology teacher.

I am delighted to write this recommendation for Rosa, whom I have known for two years as her Psychology teacher and academic advisor.

Please accept this letter as my enthusiastic endorsement of Chris, the top student in my 11th grade AP Chemistry class.

After introducing the student, your relationship with her, and your statement of recommendation, you can go on to provide your evaluation, while keeping in mind the above mentioned suggestions, like focusing on important themes and using specific stories, powerful language, and a statement of ranking. If you want to balance out your recommendation by presenting a weakness, I would suggest doing so in a mild way, perhaps with an explanation of how that weakness could be turned into a strength. 

In your letter's conclusion, it's a good idea to restate your support for the student, while also talking about how you envision the student being successful at college . Admissions officers want to build a strong, dynamic, and diverse class with a range of abilities and interests. By attesting to the student's potential for future success and contributions at campus, you can reassure admissions officers that she is a student they want at their school.

Finally, you can conclude your letter with your contact information and an invitation to call or email you with any further questions . Use an official letterhead, and welcome them to get in touch for any further discussion of the student.

To sum up, let's go over the do's and don't's of writing recommendation letters for students applying to college.


Key Points to Remember

  • Include key content, like who you're recommending, who you are, how you know the student, and what makes you qualified to evaluate her.
  • Be enthusiastic in your recommendation, discussing both a student's academic ability and potential and her character and personality.
  • Highlight a few key qualities that you think are essential for admissions officers to understand who the student is and what she can accomplish.
  • Use specific stories, examples, and anecdotes to support your evaluation.
  • Be intentional in your word choice, making sure to powerful words and phrases and to avoid cliches.
  • Provide a high and impressive ranking , when applicable.
  • Conclude with a strong statement of support, vision of the student's future success , and invitation to the admissions committee to follow up with you if need be.
  • Simply repeat resume points or quantitative data that are already listed on other parts of the application.
  • Cast too wide a net and end up saying very little, because you tried to say too much.
  • List adjectives without having examples to back them up.
  • Use generic , bland, unenthusiastic language or cliche statements.
  • Use similar letters for more than one student, especially if the students are applying to the same schools (the same admissions officers will see this!)
  • Agree to provide a letter of recommendation unless you can honestly recommend a student.

Finally, not all students develop strong connections with their teachers, perhaps because they have trouble participating in class or their school has a large teacher to student ratio. To help you write your recommendation, students may provide a "brag sheet," where they talk about their goals and what's important to them, as well as a resume. If you need more information or time to talk to the student, it can help to meet with her and have a conversation or two. I always found the easiest letters to write were for students who were open and eager to share their plans and personality.

If you feel you haven't gotten to know a student as well as you need to to write a compelling and insightful letter, then it may help to elicit her thoughts and feelings, as well as make time to get to know her better. As long as you have the raw materials, in terms of a good relationship, stories, and observations, then you can use these suggestions and examples to craft a thoughtful, customized letter of recommendation that will help her get into college.

As you write, remember your mission: to differentiate the student as a unique and impressive candidate, to shed light on both her intellectual and personal qualities, and to give admissions officers a holistic view of the person that will show up on campus in next year's class.

What's Next?

Some of the most helpful resources for me as I wrote recommendation letters for students were examples of great and bad letters. Check back soon for our articles with great letters , bad letters , and a suggested recommendation letter template .

While recommendation letters are important for all schools, they must be especially outstanding to help a student get into the Ivy League. Check out our complete guide to Harvard recommendation letters . 

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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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Is it frowned upon to obtain a recommendation letter from a recent Ph.D. graduate?

Like many other students in a lab where interaction with the lead Professor is very limited, most of my time is spent with the graduate student who is working on their dissertation/publication project.

This student is a Ph.D. candidate (Ph.C.) and will have their degree by the time I apply to graduate school. Whether they will secure a faculty position or post-doc somewhere is unknown, but my question is whether it is okay to ask them for a recommendation letter since they will have earned their doctorate degree by then, despite having worked under them when they, themselves, were still students.

Will this be frowned upon by the admissions committee?

*This is for Social Sciences

  • graduate-admissions
  • recommendation-letter

ssjjaca's user avatar

4 Answers 4

I wrote one or two recommendation letters as a graduate student, though only after encouraging the students to find someone else if at all possible.

My experience is in math, which may be different, but it's been that a letter from a PhD student counts for somewhat less. Prestige of the letter writer matters a bit, as does experience, and a PhD student generally doesn't have either.

It would be common in your situation, I think, to have the lead faculty member write the letter, but consult with the PhD student about what to say. (Or even to have the PhD student write portions of the letter and have the lead faculty member complete and sign the letter.)

When students have done a research project but the supervising faculty member doesn't write a letter, that can be a red flag. A letter from a PhD student helps, especially if it explains that they did most of the supervising, but it still raises questions.

Henry's user avatar

  • I would concur that having someone other than the lead researcher from your lab write the letter raises questions, and would encourage you to try to find a full professor to write your letter. In my case, I had a highly renowned professor from my department who knew me well write my letter even though we hadn't done research together, and that letter was a big factor in my successful PhD application. –  Jennifer Rae Pierce Jan 8, 2017 at 14:36

How seriously a letter from a graduate student (or very recent Ph.D. graduate) will be taken will vary from institution to institution and from person to person. At some places, a detailed letter from a student might be of value, if there is simply no way to get a comparable detailed letter from a faculty member. However, I know from talking to application readers from various institutions that at some places, there is a semi-official policy that letter from grad students are given extremely little weight. (Most memorably, I was told by one of the professors on the graduate admissions committee in the physics department at MIT that they did not take letter from students seriously at all.)

Of course, there are valid reasons to take letters from students significantly less seriously than letters from more senior people. Students do not tend to have enough experience to provide a good evaluation of a given undergraduate, relative to the population of other undergraduates. In some cases, having a letter from a grad student may not really hurt an applicant, but in other situations it may be very bad for their application; and for this reason, I always strongly advise students against getting recommendation letters from grad students.

Buzz's user avatar

I don't think it will be frowned upon by the admissions committee. This person was, for all practical purposes, a co-worker, or a supervisor. It's perfectly reasonable to include that person on your list.

The person might have a very good reputation among people in your field. It might be foolish not to include that person.

Inquisitive's user avatar

It's totally OK to ask a graduate student or recent graduate for a letter of recommendation when applying to graduate student school. Just make sure you ask for one from faculty as well.

There are two main things that matter about letters of recommendation:

  • What do the letters say? Do the authors know you well? Do they think you are absolutely fantastic? Do they think you have a wonderful career in research ahead of you?
  • Who are the letters from? Does the reader know, trust, and/or respect the person writing the letter?

Ideally, all of your letters would come from incredibly well known famous senior faculty and they would all say that you walk on water. Of course, that rarely happens for folks applying to graduate school. As a result, you often need to compromise between the two things.

A letter from somebody who has worked with you more closely but who might not be as well known or whose credentials might not inspire as much confidence might (i.e., less good at 2 above) can still be useful if it can provide details about how hard you work and how smart you are (i.e., 1 above). Indeed, if your other letters are from more senior people that are going to be thinner on this kind of detail, it might be a good move to ask for a letter that can complement these.

You could also try to find some compromise. Here are two ideas:

  • You might be to coordinate with the senior person (i.e., the PI in the lab of the graduate student writing the letter) to let them know that you're also asking the student. Although you can't force it, it might means that the PI can say, "I think the student [you] is great and you should really take my word of my incredibly trusted former student who is writing a letter as well."
  • It is rare (but not impossible) for the senior person to collaborate with their (former) graduate student to submit a dual-authored letter. You might want to make this suggestion to the PI and/or the recent graduate.

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10 Strong Scholarship Recommendation Letter Examples

Help make college more affordable for your students.

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Paying for college takes a lot of planning. Tuition costs rise every year and graduates are buckling under the weight of debt from loans. For some, the expense of higher education is prohibitive, with many talented students being forced to cut their dreams short. Scholarships can make getting a degree more affordable. Students qualify based on academic performance, special interests, or financial needs. If you’ve been asked to help with the process, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a list of sample recommendation letters for scholarship applications that best meet your students’ needs.

How To Write Scholarship Recommendation Letters

If you’ve been asked to write a recommendation letter for your student’s scholarship, you might feel overwhelmed. You want to help your student, but you’re worried your letter won’t be good enough. In the end, you can only do your best, so lead with your heart and consider the following suggestions:

  • Use letterhead and add your personal information (full name, title, school name, etc.) in the top left corner. 
  • Fill the whole page (at least 300 words) with an introduction, two or three paragraphs, and a conclusion. 
  • In the first paragraph, introduce your student, specify the scholarship for which they are applying, and share details about the nature and length of your relationship. 
  • In the body paragraphs, describe the ways your student is suitable and deserving of the scholarship. 
  • In your final section, pull everything together and emphasize your student’s strengths as well as the reasons why you are endorsing them. 

Here’s a quick video on how to craft an effective scholarship recommendation letter:

Don’t feel you can honestly provide a positive recommendation? Gently decline their request for a letter. Avoid putting yourself in a position where you will have to be insincere. You don’t want to write something negative because it could cost the student an opportunity to earn a scholarship. 

Sample Recommendation Letters for Scholarship Applications

1. general scholarship recommendation letter.

This is a great sample scholarship letter if you’re trying to offer a rounded view of a student’s performance in high school. You’ll include information about your experience with them as well as your thoughts on their potential success in a higher-education setting.

2. Sample Rhodes Scholarship letter 

If your student is a candidate for a prestigious award such as the Rhodes Scholarship, this sample scholarship letter will give you an idea of what to share with the selection committee. With these types of recommendation letters, you want to provide as much praise and positive information as possible.

3. Scholarship letter for math students

There are many great scholarship opportunities for strong math students. This sample recommendation letter outlines how to share not only your student’s math talents but the other traits that make them a good candidate as well.

4. Leadership scholarship sample letter

This helpful scholarship recommendation letter offers an example for highlighting leadership skills. Back up your endorsement by sharing specific situations as well as participation in any committees, programs, and events where your student excelled.

5. Scholarship letter for international studies

Does your student plan to go abroad? If so, review this sample for writing a strong letter of recommendation for this specific type of scholarship. Be sure to include evidence as to why you believe your student is well rounded and exceptional. 

6. Environmentalist scholarship letter

Has one of your students decided to pursue a degree in environmental sciences and wildlife? If so, this scholarship recommendation letter is a good example because it concisely highlights their strengths and shares why they would make a good candidate.

7. Scholarship letter for students who need financial assistance

No one should miss out on a college education because they can’t afford to pay. You can help them overcome this barrier! This excellent sample letter of recommendation shows the details to include for scholarships based on financial need. 

8. Scholarship recommendation letter for STEM students

There are many scholarships for students who plan to pursue a career in STEM fields. If you’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for this type of scholarship, this sample will give you a good idea of what to include. 

9. Greek society scholarship letter sample

Fraternities and sororities can be a great source of financial support for college and university students. Review this sample recommendation letter for scholarship applications for Greek society candidates.

10. Personal endorsement for scholarships

This sample recommendation letter for a scholarship application is best when you can’t vouch for the prospective student’s academic performance but want to share information about their personal character and how it relates to the scholarship program. 

Do you have a great sample recommendation letter for scholarship applications? Please share it in the comments below!

Plus, check out  the ultimate guide to college scholarships, want more articles like this be sure to subscribe to our newsletters ..

Help your students cover the high cost of tuition. Choose a sample recommendation letter for scholarship applications from this list!

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Tips for Writing a College Recommendation Letter

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What’s A Good GPA For Grad School? How To Get In

Genevieve Carlton Ph.D.

Updated: Mar 26, 2024, 4:18pm

What’s A Good GPA For Grad School? How To Get In

Applying to grad school can be stressful, especially if your undergraduate GPA could be higher. But there’s good news—you don’t need a 4.0 to get into grad school.

What’s a good GPA for grad school? It depends on the school and program. In general, graduate schools look for a minimum 3.0 GPA, but programs admit applicants with lower GPAs, too.

Grades aren’t the only way grad schools measure applicants. You also submit letters of recommendation and college essays , among other materials that can help you stand out. By doing your research and strengthening other areas of your application, you can get into grad school without a high GPA.

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What GPA Do You Need for Grad School?

Many grad schools require a minimum 3.0 GPA for admission, while some competitive programs may require a GPA as high as 3.5.

However, meeting the minimum GPA threshold doesn’t guarantee admission. For example, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s graduate school recommends applicants have a minimum 3.0 GPA, but the average GPA for admitted students is 3.54.

Competitive grad programs may have even higher average GPAs: For example, Harvard University ‘s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences reported a 3.8 average undergraduate GPA for fall 2023 graduate students. Many prestigious M.B.A. programs report the average undergraduate GPA for new grad students is 3.5 or higher.

Less competitive programs regularly admit students with lower GPAs , especially those whose applications highlight other aspects of their achievements.

How Do Grad School Admissions Officers Evaluate Applicants?

Grades aren’t the only factor grad school admissions officers consider when evaluating applicants. Ultimately, the admissions process aims to find students who will succeed in grad school. You can show your preparation for graduate-level coursework in several ways.

Elements outside GPA that play a role in grad school admissions decisions include:

  • Standardized Test Scores: High scores on tests like the GRE or GMAT can boost your chance of admissions. For test-optional graduate programs, consider submitting scores if you have a lower GPA.
  • Experience: Some programs require applicants to have research or work experience, so explain how your previous jobs or research opportunities have prepared you for the program in your statement of purpose.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Recommendation letters speak to your viability for grad school, which makes them a valuable tool for admissions officers. When choosing recommenders, ask faculty or work supervisors who can provide specific examples of your academic and professional strengths.
  • Statement of Purpose: Your statement of purpose explains your preparation for grad school, why you will fit into the program and what you plan to do with your graduate degree.
  • Undergraduate Transcripts: Admissions officers look for more than grades in your transcript. They want to see which courses you took, whether you meet prerequisite requirements and whether your transcripts show improvement over time.

How To Get Into Grad School With a Low GPA

Strengthening your application with research experience, work history or standardized test scores can help you stand out even with a lower GPA. You can also take graduate courses to demonstrate that you can succeed in advanced classes. Finally, if you thrive in interview settings, consider programs that incorporate interviews with faculty or admissions officers to showcase your strengths.

Here are some considerations for getting into grad school with a low GPA:

Apply To Grad Schools With Lower GPA Requirements

Instead of applying to grad programs that require a minimum 3.0 to 3.5 GPA, consider applying to programs with lower grade point average requirements. Additionally, some programs offer conditional or provisional admission for applicants who do not meet GPA minimums. If you qualify for provisional admission, you must usually earn a B or higher in your graduate classes to stay enrolled.

Research or Work Experience

Work or research experience can help you stand out despite a low GPA. While enrolled as an undergraduate, consider internship or volunteer opportunities in your field to build relevant skills. For research-intensive areas, ask faculty in your department about research assistant positions or undergraduate thesis options.

Letters of Recommendation

Strong letters of recommendation can make up for a lower GPA. Think strategically about who to ask for a recommendation letter. Professors who can speak to your academic strengths can reassure grad programs that you’re ready for advanced coursework. If you have full-time professional experience, ask supervisors who can speak to your work ethic and leadership potential.

Personal Statement

A strong grad school admission essay can help you stand out. Explain how the program will help you achieve your goals. Mention specific faculty members and their research to show the direct connection between the department and your aspirations.

Consider addressing your GPA as you explain your preparation for grad school. For example, if circumstantial impacts like bereavement or medical issues negatively affected your GPA, you can explain these situations in your statement.

Professional Experience

Fields like business emphasize professional experience in the admissions process. In your statement of purpose, showcase your work experience and the specific skills you’ve developed that relate to your grad program. You can also detail how the skills and knowledge you gain as you earn the degree will help you advance your career after graduation.

Strong Entrance Exam Scores

Some graduate programs require standardized test scores. Whether you take the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or another exam, high scores can strengthen your application if you have lower grades.

Adequate preparation is essential to getting high test scores. Give yourself ample time to prepare by creating a schedule to incorporate daily practice for several weeks or months, which can help you build and review test-specific knowledge. Find study guides or courses that prepare you for the test. Take practice tests to understand exam structure, pacing and question formats.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About GPAs for Grad School

What is a good gpa for grad school.

Many graduate programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA for admissions. More competitive programs generally admit applicants with a 3.5 GPA or higher.

What is the lowest GPA to get into grad school?

Grad schools often recommend a 3.0 GPA for admissions, but may accept candidates with a 2.5-2.9 GPA with provisional admission. If you have a lower GPA, consider retaking courses to raise your grades or take graduate courses to strengthen your application.

What are the odds of getting into grad school?

The odds of getting into grad school depend on the program and the strength of your application. If you’re interested in grad school but don’t have a high GPA, contact graduate programs for information on their admission policies.

How strict are GPA requirements for grad school?

The strictness of GPA requirements varies by institution. Some schools post a recommended GPA rather than a required minimum grade point average and evaluate applications holistically, offering conditional admissions for students who do not meet the recommended GPA. Reach out to specific programs on your list to learn more about their requirements.

What if my GPA is too low for grad school?

If your GPA is low for grad school, consider strengthening your application with standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and relevant research or work experience. You can also raise your GPA by retaking undergrad courses with low grades or taking graduate-level classes.

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  • Getting Into Grad Schools That Don’t Require Letters of Recommendation

Graduate programs that don't require letters of recommendation

grad schools that don't require letters of recommendation

Applying to graduate school without letters of recommendation? When it seems like every school and program you want to attend has that requirement? Don’t worry!  You may get into graduate school without letters of recommendation. Below is a list of grad schools that don’t require letters may not need any recommenders.

This article may also give you some ideas on how to get letters of recommendation. It may also show how to choose the perfect program for you.

Getting Into Graduate School Without Letters of Recommendation

Applying to Graduate Schools That Don’t Require Letters of Recommendation

When deciding to go to grad school, the entire process could seem overwhelming. Especially, as you try to balance deadlines, standardized tests, and completing your graduate school applications. This could be true if you don’t have letters of recommendation.

It is true that many grad programs require them. In fact, references should be viewed as a necessity for a PhD program. Yet, there are plenty of schools that may not require letters of recommendation for some master’s programs. Some of these schools may consider work experience instead of recommendations.

So, if you don’t have any, check out the schools listed below and find the perfect program for you.

Still worried? Then, read all our tips on  applying to graduate school . In the table below are a few ideas from partner universities to help get you started.

List of Grad Schools That Don’t Require Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation Required?Other Common Admissions Requirements
NoApplication, application fee, transcripts, 2.5 GPA
NoUndergraduate degree from accredited college, 2.8 GPA (flexible)
NoBachelor’s from Accredited University, 2.5 GPA, Degree in similar field
No2.75 GPA, undergraduate degree from accredited college
NoBachelor’s from Accredited University, 2.5 GPA, Transcripts
NoBachelor’s, resume, goal statement
NoApplication, Transcripts, Vary from Program to Program
NoOfficial transcripts, application, test scores
NoTranscripts, Resume, Statement of Goals
NoGRE, Resume, Bachelor’s Degree from Accredited Institution
NoTranscripts, Resume, 2.8 GPA

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More Information on 12 Grad Schools That Don’t Require a Letter of Recommendation

Admissions to graduate schools may be very competitive, especially high demand degrees such as nursing or an MBA. So, keep in mind that the admissions requirements listed below are often the minimums. These do not guarantee admission.

Interested in any of the schools and programs listed below? Click on any of the links and sponsored listings for more information about curriculum, concentrations, and how to apply.

Liberty University

Admissions requirements include:.

  • Completed application
  • Application fee
  • Transcripts
  • Bachelor’s degree with a 2.5 GPA

Application Fee Waiver Policy

Master’s degree programs.

  • Master of Science (MS): Exercise Science: Community Physical Activity
  • (MS) Master of Science in Healthcare Administration: Project Management
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): Public Relations

Grand Canyon University

  • Undergrad degree from accredited college
  • 2.8 GPA or higher for undergrad
  • If you don’t meet the GPA requirement, you may be accepted if you score higher than a 500 on the GMAT or 300 combined on the verbal / quantitative GRE
  • M.B.A. Programs
  • Psychology & Counseling Programs
  • Master’s in Education Programs

Full Sail University

  • Bachelor’s degree from accredited school
  • 2.5 GPA on bachelor’s degree
  • Degree in similar field or scope as one applying to

Master’s Degrees Programs

  • (MS) Master of Science in Entertainment Business
  • Master of Arts (MA) in Public Relations
  • Master of Science (MS) in Internet Marketing

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS Information Technology in Healthcare Informatics
  • Master of Science Information Technology in Internet Security
  • MS Information Technology in Data Analytics

Purdue University Global

  • Completed app
  • Master of Health Informatics
  • MSN – Executive Leadership
  • Master of Health Care Administration

Walden University

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  • Bachelor’s degree
  • MBA Project Management
  • Master of Social Work – Clinical Management
  • MS in Criminal Justice – Leadership

Ohio University

Founded in 1808, Ohio U holds its central purpose as the intellectual and personal development of its students. Ohio U offers grad programs designed to achieve the school’s educational and research mission. The specific admissions requirements for a master’s degree at Ohio U vary from program to program. Be sure to check with your desired program for more info.

  • Civil Engineering
  • Educational Administration

Cleveland State University

At the core of everything they do at CSU is their philosophy of Engaged Learning. This is the mantra that gives purpose to CSU’s mission of providing an accessible education and creativity across all branches of learning. Some of the grad programs at CSU require letters of recommendation, such as social work and doctorate degrees.

Admission Requirements include:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school
  • Official transcripts
  • Official test scores
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Accountancy and Financial Information Systems
  • Mathematics (Offered as MA and MS)

University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the UO believes that anything could grow if you have the drive to make it so. The school is also committed to providing an inclusive community where diversity serves as the cornerstone of learning. All of the graduate degrees and master’s programs at UO have different admissions requirements. Therefore, be sure to check with all of the requirements before applying.

  • Statement of goals
  • Master of Science (MS) in Accounting
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Industrial Organization Psychology

University of Minnesota

The staff and faculty of the UM is known for being exceptionally dedicated to the school’s mission of preparing students to meet the challenges of the world by developing your strengths with experiences beyond the classroom. At the UM, all of the master’s degree programs have different admissions requirements. Be sure to check with the school to find the perfect program for you before applying.

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • 3.0 GPA or above

Master’s Degree Programs that don’t require Letters of Recommendation

  • Social Work
  • Human Resource Development

Western Connecticut State University

Striving to change the lives of all students by providing a quality education that fosters individual growth, WCSU has the goal of being widely recognized as a premier public university that aims to prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.

The admissions requirements at WCSU vary from program to program, some of which require letters of recommendation. However here are some general requirements:

  • GPA of 2.8 or higher on all completed coursework
  • Completed application with fee

There may be additional requirements, such as a teaching certificate for teaching programs or a portfolio review for arts and writing degrees. Before applying to grad programs at WCSU, check with the school for more info.

  • Earth and Planetary Science
  • Mathematics

Admissions Requirements for Grad School

Every school and program may have different admissions requirements. In fact, some schools may even vary their requirements for different programs. As a grad student there might be several options. This is why it’s important to research a variety of schools before you apply.

However, some of the most common admissions requirements often include:

  • GRE scores or GMAT scores
  • Writing samples or personal statement
  • Meeting with admissions committees

While many schools may request recommendations for potential graduate students check out the list below for grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

If you’re planning to apply for grad school but don’t have these letters, there may be a chance to before sending your applications. This could take a couple of weeks and may postpone sending your apps. So, it may help you get into some of your target schools.

In fact, some of the schools don’t require letters of recommendation for all programs. However, they may need them for others. At other times letters may not be needed for the app process, but could still help boost your chances of acceptance.

That’s why it may help to seek references while sending out apps for graduate admissions. This might motivate you to delay applying until you’ve received recommendation letters.

Recommendations Sources

While there are many people you could ask for recommendations, some of the best sources may be:

  • Former teachers
  • Supervisors

Another option that many students may overlook is to take a class. This may be either at the grad level or the undergrad level if you’re changing fields. Make sure you perform well and take part in class to impress your professor. Then they’ll be more likely to write a recommendation for you.

Of course, this may postpone sending your applications and going to grad school. But it may also help you get into one of your desired schools. Even if they’re grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation, the extra effort could make a difference

Paying for Graduate School  According to a study by  Sallie Mae , on average graduate students pay for 77% of their education with money they have earned, saved, or borrowed, compared to undergraduates who pay for 30% of their degree using the same resources. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

How to Apply to Grad Schools That Don’t Require Letters of Recommendation

A great way to seek admission into graduate school may be to prepare yourself while you’re still earning your undergrad degree by:

  • Taking higher level courses
  • Taking classes from a variety of professors
  • Get professional experience through internships
  • Learning advanced skills need in the field
  • Taking a grad level course as a senior

If you’re interested in applying to graduate school, be sure to consider different aspects or concentrations of your desired field. The perfect way to do this may be to diversify your courses. Diversify your research while still pursuing your undergrad degree also.

That means, don’t choose a specific aspect of your field before your junior year to make sure that you take courses from different professors and different subsets of your field. This could give you a wide variety of experience and points of view.

You may not prefer grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation. So, it could benefot you to develop strong communicatoon and relationships with undergrad professors as well.

What Master’s Degree Should I Earn?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) , as of 2013, those with a master’s degree earned $12,000 more per year than those with only a bachelor’s degree. This was across all industries and occupations. There were some fields that those with a master’s degree earned the same or below the median annual salary for those with a bachelor’s.

A possible increase in wages shouldn’t be the only question to consider when choosing a master’s. You should also think about:

  • Is it worth the time and money?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • Could you qualify for financial aid?

When choosing a master’s degree, be sure to consider all your options. Research a variety of programs and schools to make sure that you find the perfect program for you. If you have a limited application packet, check for grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation. These could be online programs or traditional classrooms. For instance, are you looking for an  MBA or a master of science in business ?

Master’s Degree Programs

Some of the most common master’s degree options are typically:

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Public Health
  • Master of Education (MEd)

Interested in grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation? Get Matched!

Ready to search for master’s degree programs? Interested in grad schools that don’t require letters of recommendation? Check out any of the sponsored listings on this page. Or complete the form to get matched to the perfect program for you and request info today!

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How to Write an MBA Recommendation Letter

Be the best advocate for an MBA candidate you can be by crafting a strong letter of recommendation.

[Featured Image] A man in a light blue button-up is sitting down, holding and thoughtfully looking at two pieces of paper.

In order to gain admittance into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, prospective students often need to submit one or two letters of recommendation as part of their business school application .

Typically, business schools expect to see these one-page letters of recommendation coming from employers, academic advisors, or other mentors who are able to offer insight through a career-oriented lens and forecast the prospective student’s level of success in pursuing their MBA.

If you have been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a prospective MBA candidate, it likely means that person values your relationship and respects your position in the business world, and that they hope you see their potential. In this article, we’ll discuss how you might effectively translate your insight into a formal MBA recommendation letter.

Do you need an MBA recommendation letter?

Gain insight into effective ways to ask for a letter of recommendation from your professor, academic advisor, direct supervisor, or other members of your network who may be able to assist with your MBA application.

How to write an effective MBA recommendation letter

An MBA recommendation letter can help humanize a prospective student and offer a trusted outsider’s perspective on their working and learning habits. Here are some tips to help you prepare to write your letter.

Helpful resources before you begin

As you approach writing your letter, it may be helpful to spend some time gathering and processing information related to the prospective student’s application at large. Some helpful items may include:

The programs they are applying to

Their desired areas of study

Other application materials, including their personal statement , resume, and academic records

Any instructions regarding the letter of recommendation, including specific questions from the schools, your submission deadline, and the submission process

After you’ve reviewed the preliminary materials, have a conversation with the prospective student. Ask any lingering questions you may have about the expectations and process, and take the opportunity to gather any other information you may need before you begin organizing your letter.

Here are some questions that may help guide your letter:

What are your short-term and long-term goals, and how will an MBA help you achieve them?

What do you view as your greatest strengths, and what are your challenge areas?

What do you view as your greatest career accomplishment so far?

What aspect of business excites you the most?

Has there been an experience in our relationship that you felt influenced the way you approach business?

Be sure to take notes or record your conversation (with permission to do so!) so that you can refer back to the prospective student’s answers as you continue to work on the letter.

Outlining your MBA recommendation letter

Once you’ve gathered the necessary information, you're ready to start outlining or writing.

Structurally, your recommendation letter should be roughly one page in length, with an introduction, about two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Maintain a formal tone throughout the letter, and format it as you would a standard business letter.


Open your letter with a formal introduction. Introduce yourself and note your credentials and affiliations. Then, introduce the prospective MBA candidate you’re writing about and a bit about your relationship with them. You’ll have the body of the letter to go into further detail, so keep this part brief.

Middle paragraphs

This is where you get the chance to discuss why you think this prospective student is a good fit for this MBA program. Talk about skills they possess, their leadership potential, or any other standout qualities that make this person unique among their peers. If the applicant has highly specialized goals—for example, they want to work in the nonprofit sector—try to connect those aims with the specific program you’re recommending them for. Incorporate specific examples of times you’ve witnessed these traits in action, and how those experiences support your position that this person will succeed in an MBA program.

Try to be genuine in this section. It’s okay to discuss areas of improvement or feedback you’ve given them in the past—particularly if that feedback has already been put into action in an impressive or noteworthy way.

To close, offer a broad-level overview of why you recommend the prospective student for this MBA program. Summarize the qualifications you’ve already detailed, and offer a mechanism for admissions officers to contact you should they have further questions.

What is the Common Letter of Recommendation?

The Graduate Management Admission Council created the Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR) to help streamline the MBA recommendation letter process. The Common LOR is a template questionnaire that asks the same basic questions a traditional recommendation letter is expected to address. However, rather than writing individual letters to each school, the Common LOR is a widely accepted, standardized document that you can fill out once and submit to many schools.

For more tips, watch this video on writing letters of recommendation from a Stanford University professor:

MBA recommendation letter sample

To help you start writing your recommendation letter, use this template . Here is a sample letter created with the template.

Image of a letter of recommendation with black text on a white background

Learn more: How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (Template + Tips)

What MBA admissions officers look for in recommendation letters

Through the entire application process, MBA admissions officers are looking for evidence that any given applicant is ready to take this next educational step toward growing their career. With recommendation letters, they’re hoping to find a third-person point of view on a prospective student’s gained skills, career goals, and future potential.

Recommendation letters can be an important part of the application package, as they can back up the first-person perception the applicant offers with real, lived experiences. Some items an MBA admissions officer may notice in a recommendation letter are:

How well the recommender knows the applicant

Stories that support the applicant’s positive attributes

Evidence of specific desirable qualities in an MBA candidate, such as leadership and growth potential

How well the letter supports the rest of the application package

Once you’ve finished writing your letter, be sure to edit for clarity and proper grammar before submitting to the schools. If you need a review, explore Business Writing from the University of Colorado Boulder, available on Coursera. This series is designed to help learners master business writing and editing skills.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.


  1. Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for PhD Students (with Sample)

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  2. PDF Sample letter of recommendation

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  5. How To Write a Graduate School Recommendation Letter (With Example

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    Be intentional in your word choice, making sure to powerful words and phrases and to avoid cliches. Provide a high and impressive ranking, when applicable. Conclude with a strong statement of support, vision of the student's future success, and invitation to the admissions committee to follow up with you if need be.

  23. Is it frowned upon to obtain a recommendation letter from a recent Ph.D

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  26. Sample Recommendation Letters for Scholarship Applications

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  30. How to Write an MBA Recommendation Letter

    In order to gain admittance into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, prospective students often need to submit one or two letters of recommendation as part of their business school application.. Typically, business schools expect to see these one-page letters of recommendation coming from employers, academic advisors, or other mentors who are able to offer insight through a ...