Requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school

February 15, 2019

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When it comes to graduate school admissions, letters of recommendation may be more important than you think. A strong letter of recommendation from the right person can separate you from the rest of the applicants.

An admission committee is looking for depth beyond a resume and transcripts. Professional recommendations communicate information about you they will not find anywhere else. Universities differ in their approach to these letters.

At QU, we ask that a referee fills out a brief quantitative evaluation and writes a narrative on behalf of the applicant. Regardless of where you are applying, following the tips below can help distinguish yourself among the pool of applicants.

Who should write a letter of recommendation for you?

Most universities will ask for multiple letters of recommendation, and depending on how many graduate schools you are applying to, this means you will need to request letters from a few people.

Be sure to ask those who can positively attest that your unique qualifications will be an asset to the program. They should know you well enough to write about your work performance and personality in depth.

When given the option, it is a good idea to waive your right to view the letter of recommendation to allow the referee to speak freely regarding your credentials.

Ideally, allow your referee 3-6 weeks to write your letter of recommendation. Send along a preemptive due date to ensure a complete application is submitted before the actual deadline.

"The recommender you choose should be someone with whom you have a relationship, whether it be academic or professional," shared Jonathan Bailey, Senior Associate Director of QU Online Programs.

Professional recommendations can come from:

  • Mentors
  • Past or present supervisors
  • Individuals whom you have managed
  • Coworkers who can effectively speak to your qualifications

When your supervisor agrees to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school, we recommend that you meet with them in advance to discuss your career goals.

This provides you with the opportunity to present yourself as a motivated professional who is looking to grow your knowledge and provide additional value to the company. Opportunities to expand your current role or take on additional responsibilities may arise from this conversation.

For recent graduates or individuals with limited work experience, consider seeking recommendations from:

  • Professors with whom you’ve had two or more classes
  • Academic advisors
  • Faculty members with whom you’ve worked closely
  • Internship or work study supervisors

Your referees should write about specific contributions and achievements that illustrate how your strengths and qualifications would be a great addition to the program you are applying to.

"If a current or former supervisor is a referee, then the recommendation should speak to the ability of the applicant to work with focus, determination, and professionalism," remarks Phill Simon, Program Director, School of Communications, Quinnipiac.

How to request a letter of recommendation for graduate school

Requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school may feel awkward, but if you ask the right person, they will be happy to help you reach your goals.

An in-person meeting is the ideal way to ask, as it helps the recommender gain a deeper understanding of how your motivation aligns with that of the program.

After your meeting, follow up with an email that includes:

  • A thank you for their time
  • The university and program link you are applying to
  • How this program aligns with your goals
  • Specific accomplishments that highlight your candidacy
  • Your personal statement and resume
  • Your portfolio or other work-related projects, if applicable

Sample Follow Up Email:

Subject: Letter of Recommendation Request for Jane Doe

Dear Mr. Jones:

Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. I am grateful that you have agreed to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school for me. The application deadline is December 1.

I am in the process of applying to a master’s program in analytics from Quinnipiac University and feel the skills I will learn in this program will help me reach my goal of expanding my current role in the business intelligence department.

The program aligns with our team goals and I will have immediate application of skills I have learned in the courses. You can find more information on the program here: Quinnipiac University.

If you could vouch for my successful contributions on our latest IT data integration project, I would be grateful.

I have attached my personal statement and resume so you have additional information.

You will receive an email from the university asking for your recommendation. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Jane Doe


If you are unable to arrange an in-person or phone meeting, you may make your request via email. This is an email to see if they will write a letter of recommendation for you, so keep it short and to the point.

Sample First Ask Email:

Subject: Letter of Recommendation Request for Jane Doe

Dear Mr. Jones:

I hope this email finds you and the team well at ABC Company.

Your guidance and leadership have inspired me to apply to the MS in Organizational Leadership program at Quinnipiac University. I am looking to this program to better position myself for a director-level position within my company.

I am writing to see if you would write a positive letter of recommendation for me since you have seen me manage a small team. If you can find the time, I would appreciate the opportunity to have a brief conversation with you about what the school is looking for in this letter.

If your schedule won’t allow time to write a recommendation for me, I will understand.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.


Jane Doe


If they agree to write the letter, respond with an email that includes the same follow-up elements listed above to ensure your letter is representative of your qualifications.

Follow Up

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to follow up with your admission representative to ensure the letters are submitted. Your recommenders are busy, and sometimes they may put off writing your letter.

You may send them a gentle reminder in order for you to meet the application deadline.

Following up with your referees is not only proper etiquette, it will go a long way with building relationships. Acknowledge that their letter has been received and once you choose your university, send them a note thanking them for their part in helping you begin the next step in your journey.

They will appreciate it!

Final Words of Advice

Letters of recommendation are one important piece of a larger application process for graduate school.

We encourage you to:

  • Apply early
  • Review admission requirements thoroughly
  • Work closely with your admission representative
  • Present a well-executed application

Ultimately, the admission committee wants to know if you are you a good fit for their program. To present yourself as a strong candidate, ensure each piece of your graduate application demonstrates you have skillset, drive, and integrity to contribute to the program.

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