Who do I pick? How do I ask?
First things first- Who you ask to write your letters of recommendation depends on where you are in your life at this moment. Ultimately, you want to select three people who are able to provide meaningful comments on your ability to be successful in a graduate program.
Academic Sources: If you are finishing up your undergraduate work or are a recent graduate, a current or former professor/instructor is a great idea. However, you if graduated more than five years ago, an academic source may not be the best fit unless you have kept in close contact since leaving school.
Professional Sources: Yes! Supervisors are always a safe bet. Applicants with strong professional experience should seek recommendations from current or former supervisors, colleagues, or clients. Maybe you don’t want to ask your supervisor for various good reasons. Maybe you’re the boss. No problem. You can always ask a similar or higher ranking colleague or a client. Always Avoid: Never ask friends, family members, or anyone that reports to you in a work setting. The best letters come from objective sources who are in a good position to evaluate your ability to take on graduate level work.
Ask Ahead of Time: In a one-on-one setting (in-person or email), ask your recommender if s/he is willing to provide a positive recommendation on your behalf. The “positive” part is important. You don’t want any surprises. Asking up front is a good idea.
Provide Context: Let your recommender know why you are pursuing a program and how it relates to your future goals and success. You can also remind them of past accomplishments as this can provide helpful insight they can use to complete the recommendation.
Let Them Know What to Expect: Tell them how easy it is! Let them know that they will receive an email with a form that asks them four questions. They answer the questions and hit “submit.” That’s it. Super easy. They do not need to write a free-form letter on letter head or mail anything. Everyone is busy. Knowing that a task is easy can motivate them to help you out and set you up for success.
Want more application tips? Stay tuned to future posts or make an appointment for a one-on-one consult.