Do’s and Don’ts for Securing a Letter of Recommendation
Acquiring letters of recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important part of almost any graduate school application. Good grades and relevant work experience are essential, but recommendations can be the deciding factor in determining whether or not a prospective student is accepted.
UOnline requires two letters of recommendation as part of the application for our graduate programs. On average, it takes about 15 days from the original request to receive the letter from your recommender.
We advise requesting letters from professional or academic references who are able to provide an accurate assessment of your performance and can speak to why you would be a good fit for the program. Here are some do’s and don’ts for getting good letters of recommendation.
DO ask people who know you well. The best letters of recommendation come from professors or managers who supervised you directly and can be specific about your work habits and contributions. If you got a good grade in a class but never interacted directly with the professor, he or she is probably not the best person to ask. “Consider asking a teacher who also knows you outside the classroom,” suggests The College Board.
DON’T ask friends or family. We discourage applicants from using personal contacts for recommendations. They may know you well personally, but they cannot provide an objective assessment of your academic abilities.
DO be polite. Writing a letter of recommendation takes time, and some professors may have been asked for letters by multiple students. You’re asking for a favor, so be sure to say “please” and write them thank-you notes once you’ve been accepted into a program, reminds The College Board. “Tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.”
DON’T be offended if someone says no. “If a recommender declines to write a letter, they could be too busy, or it could be a polite hint that the letter would not be positive. Either way, you don’t want a letter from this person,” wrote Adam Ruben, Ph.D., in Science magazine.
DO contact your references ahead of time. Once you enter the names and contact information for your two references into UOnline’s online application, they will automatically receive an email prompting them to fill out your recommendation online by the application deadline. For this reason, it’s a good idea to contact your references ahead of time to let them know to expect an email.
DON’T wait until the last minute. Ensure you know your deadline and give ample amount of time for the recommender to write their letter. “A month is standard. Two weeks is pushing it,” wrote Dr. Ruben, who was once asked for a recommendation by a student 90 minutes before the deadline. “A rush job might compromise its quality.”