How to get the best recommendation letter for your grad school application

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Grades and test scores are important factors for graduate school applications; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process.

By U2B Staff 

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Grades and resumes play a big role to admissions officers when shortlisting candidates, but what plays an even bigger role is what others think of your expertise, experience and character. This is where your recommendation letter comes in. 

Almost every graduate school application requires at least two recommendation letters from individuals who are familiar with your abilities, competencies and character. Most universities will require two to three so it is important to prepare ahead and have a few extras on hand. As many admissions committees do not have time to read extra materials, it is recommended that you only send in the number of letters requested. 

It can be an overwhelming and nerve wracking process but the right preparation is all you need. Here are some crucial recommendation letter tips you need to know in order to nail your grad school application:

Who should you ask to write your recommendation letter?

Recommendation letters should come from individuals who are familiar with your background, who know enough about your achievements as a student and researcher to highlight your most outstanding competencies, and hold a prominent position either in a  school or organisation. 


At least one letter should be submitted from a past or current professor or academic advisor. Another could be from someone in a slightly different role, possibly an employer, a research advisor, a superior at work, or a professor from a different department or class.

Regardless of who you decide to entrust, the writer should know you well enough to recognise your accomplishments. It also helps if the recommender understands some details about the programme you aspire to enroll in.

What should be mentioned?

Your referral letter should highlight that you are a candidate with a range of skills, your academic abilities to research experiences, to applied experiences in and out of class. Ensure your recommended knows to clearly answer these 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 programme? (include specific courses or interests of the student in addition to abilities and traits)
  • What do you know about the programme the student is applying to?

What materials should you provide to the recommender?

The recommender should be given a sufficient amount of time to write and make final amendments to the letter. If it has been a while since you were last in contact, sending background information their way will make things easier. 

Be sure to include details such as classes you’ve taken, experiences you’ve shared, your transcripts, resume or CV, research experience and internships, awards and achievements, your academic/career goals and any relevant professional experience.

In addition to background information, make sure that the recommender has the necessary information to complete the writing in a timely manner and target the reader to the best of their ability. Be sure to mention the application due date, attach a copy of recommendation forms, submission instructions and as many details about the programme as you can.


What level of writing is expected?

The letter of recommendation is more informal than academic writing, but your writer should make sure that the language used has no grammatical errors, and that the flair reflects the author’s educational level and qualifications.

Let your recommender know how you would like your letter of recommendation to sound and be sure to include these pointers: 

  • Language should be more personal in tone as opposed to research writing
  • Use active voice and first-person point of view more often
  • Write chronologically, starting from important traits and then moving onto actions and achievements
  • Add a lot of details including the student’s past courses and achievements 

Be sure to edit

Once your recommendation letter is drafted, there will always be room for revision and improvement. A way to ensure that grammar mistakes and structure errors do not get in the way of your chances, give it to a professional writer or editor to proofread.