How To Ask For Grad School Recommendations

Asking for grad school recommendations is super awkward business, like asking to borrow money or cold emailing a networking opportunity. It’s like, hello please do me this favor that in no way, shape, or form benefits you, thanks! But the fact of the matter is that you’re not going to get into grad school without a good recommendation, so you better get your life together and start asking around. But who do you ask for these things, and how do you do that? There’s etiquette for this stuff, people, and we’re here to fill you in on it:

Make a list of people you want to ask.

Like, duh. But this shouldn’t be any old list of average Joe Schmoe’s; this should be a list of the people who have known you long and known you well. Since you’re applying to school, it’s best that you ask a teacher or an academic advisor of sorts who can say, “look at how unbelievably smart this person is, seriously I think she’s the next Galileo or something.”

Something that makes grad school recommendations a little different from college ones is that you are trying to sell yourself as a student and academic. Your softball coach probably wrote wonderfully about how much potential you have as a person and how great your work ethic is, but you should leave that stuff behind in college. This is the big leagues, and you need to be chatting it up with top-notch professors and character testimonies.

And make sure you get this done as soon as you know you want an advanced degree (and the way the job market works now, most of us will eventually need them). Take it from the numerous people who have been in your shoes before, you want to forge these relationships early on. As hard as it might be in a giant, gen-ed lecture hall, try and get to know awesome professors ASAP (as in freshman year).

A few years out of school? No problem. You may have (we hope) kept in touch with a few college professors who would still love to write you a recommendation – that’s awesome! If you’re in the workforce already, chances are you’re getting a degree geared toward a certain job like teaching or being an engineer (hint: if you want to be either of these, you’re probs going to need a graduate degree).

If you’ve been working for a few years and are now going back for your degree, try and get recommendations from people who can really speak to your professional prowess.

Say pretty please.

Here comes the totally awko-taco part… Actually asking for the recommendation. The good news is that this doesn’t really differ that much from how you asked your high school teachers for your college recommendations.

Make sure you approach your professor during a time he or she isn’t super busy (hint: office hours), and make sure you aren’t doing it super last minute (give the poor folks a few months). From there, you just need to use your common sense – say please, say thank you, say “what else can I get you that will help you out?”.

Don’t forget to be prepared when you ask them. Give them a list of schools you’re interested in, the program names, any deadlines, and any means they need for submitting the letters (like addressed envelopes or emails).

Overall, you want to make sure you’re not just expecting them to do this for you. Keep in mind that your professors probably have a bunch of people asking them for grad school recommendations, and while they’re probably really excited to help you succeed, you need to show them your appreciation and respect their time in doing all of this.

Say thanks.

Just like you thanked the teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors who wrote your college recommendations, you need to get a lil somethin’ somethin’ to thank those who wrote your grad school recommendations, too. Something simple but thoughtful will always do the trick, as well as a genuine, hand-written note of appreciation.