How to Request Letters of Reference
You will generally need one or more letters of reference in order to apply to graduate school. If you are currently in your fourth year, you may want to start thinking about who might make a good referee. For most graduate programs, applications will require an academic referee – a former professor or instructor who can speak to your academic ability. At Carleton, non-academic referees may be accepted in certain cases i.e. professional references or professional programs.
It is hard for professors or instructors to know every individual in classes that have 100 or more students. So, if you are in your 3rd or 4th year of an undergraduate program, look for smaller classes where you can distinguish or have distinguished yourself.
It can also be difficult for a professor or instructor to write a strong letter of reference for you if all they know is that you took their class and achieved a high grade. Therefore, you will want to ensure that you go to class and ask a lot of good questions throughout the course, based on the readings you had to do in advance. You may also wish to drop by during a professor or instructor’s office hours to ask additional questions. In other words, look for ways to stand out in the crowd. If you are in your last year of study and are in the process of applying to graduate school, do not be afraid to begin standing out now.
You should begin the process of asking a professor or instructor to be a referee early in the application process in order to give them sufficient time to respond before the program application deadline. When approaching your professor or instructor for a reference, ask specific questions such as: Do you feel you could give me a good reference?
If you have found some good referees to support your graduate school application, it is a good idea to provide them with:
- the name of the program(s) / school(s) to which you are applying;
- an updated copy of your CV/resumé;
- information on your skills and experiences;
- a short writing sample that you wrote for his/her class; and
- a copy of your Statement of Intent as that will provide additional insight into you and your goals.
Finally, based on the work you have already done to write your Statement of Intent, you will want to let your referee know what the program(s) to which you are applying are actually looking for in terms of applicant qualities. Leadership skills, analytic abilities, strong writing, an aptitude for independent thinking and research and creative problem-solving are always good to mention in a Statement of Intent, but should be backed up with examples by your referee.
When you submit an application to a Carleton graduate program, your referees will automatically receive an email asking them to complete a Referee Appraisal Form. This email will be sent after your application fee has been processed. If you find that your referees have not responded by a looming deadline, you will want to remind them, gently, about two weeks before the application deadline.
Make sure you provide your referees with your latest contact information in case they need to get back in touch with you.
Finally, you may want to consider sending each referee a thank you note. Although writing letters of reference is often part of a professor or instructor’s job, taking the time to say “Thank You” shows how much you have appreciated their help. As you may need another reference from this same referee in the future, this is a smart thing to do.
And do let them know if your application is successful.
To learn more about required documents at Carleton, visit our website.
Application Insider provides prospective students with a series of tips on how to apply to graduate school. The series is based on Carleton’s application policies, but the information can be useful in all graduate school applications. You can view the complete series here.
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