Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

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One of the many tasks that college professors are asked to do is write letters of recommendation for students and graduates who wish to apply for graduate school. Most professors are more than happy to do this for students who have excelled in their classes or who they know from extracurricular activities or campus activities.

However, writing these letters takes time away from lecture planning, student advising, and essay grading. Often instructors end up writing these letters of recommendation on their own time, so it's important to provide as much assistance as you can to the person who is writing your recommendation.

Who to Ask for a Recommendation

For most graduate school programs, you’ll need several letters of recommendation. The best people to ask for a recommendation include:

  • A professor at the school granting your undergraduate degree
  • A professor who knows you well
  • Someone with the degree you are seeking in graduate school
  • Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class
  • A supervisor at a job or internship related to your graduate program

You can also consider asking an academic advisor to provide you with a recommendation.

How to Ask for a Grad School Reference 

If you're applying to graduate school and need a letter of recommendation, try to make it as easy as possible for your professor by giving them information to work with: a copy of your resume, a list of your outstanding academic achievements and grade point average (GPA), awards and honors, a list of your extracurricular or volunteer activities (especially those where you filled a leadership role), and the date by which the letter must be submitted to the graduate program. Share your transcript with your recommender as well.

A well-written, enthusiastic letter of recommendation from a professor may do more than get you accepted into graduate school—it may also convince the department faculty to give you fellowship funding for tuition or paid employment as a research or teaching assistant.

Make sure to give your professor ample lead time to write a detailed and powerful letter for you. At the minimum, a few weeks notice is best.

Be sure to ask your professor if they are able to provide a recommendation for you. This gives them an out if they don't have time or don't feel that they can give you a strong reference.

Also, if you ask an instructor to write a letter for you right away, it’s likely that they may either decline or will dash off a quick letter that doesn’t advocate strongly for your candidacy.

Below you will find an example of a letter of recommendation for graduate school and also an example of a letter thanking the reference provider for recommending you. It’s important to thank your professors for their help—should you eventually earn a graduate degree in their field of expertise, these faculty may one day be your colleagues.

Sample Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

This is an example of a recommendation letter for graduate school. Download the graduate school reference letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online).

Screenshot of a sample reference letter for graduate school

Sample Reference Letter for Graduate School (Text Version)

Jane Doe
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
555-555-5555
jane.doe@email.com

February 2, 2021

Jeff Lee
Office of the Registrar
Acme School
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321

Dear Mr. Lee,

I highly recommend Emily Smith as a candidate for graduate school. I have worked with Emily in my capacity as Education Department Chair at Salitus College. 

While a student at Salitus, Emily maintained a 3.98 GPA while taking a full load of honors classes and seminars. She excelled as the top student in the senior-level Teaching Methods course I teach; her other instructors in our department speak highly of her performance in their classes, as well.

In addition to her classwork, Emily was also employed in various positions including teaching a museum program to fourth-grade classes in the Saratoga Springs School District, teaching both adults and children to ride horses, and managing horse show participation for a local riding stable.

She accomplished all these tasks with great initiative and with a very positive attitude. Emily has a wonderful rapport with people of all ages, especially the "at-risk" children she worked with at Carroll Hill School and Prospect Child and Family Center. Emily has a special talent working with the children who need more guidance and support than those typically found in a traditional classroom setting.

Her ability to connect with her students and her talent at teaching simple concepts, as well as more advanced topics, are both truly superior. She has excellent written and verbal communication skills, is extremely organized, reliable, and computer literate.

Emily would be a tremendous asset to your program and I recommend her to you without reservation. If you have any further questions with regard to her background or qualifications, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Sincerely,

Signature (hard copy letter)

Jane Doe
Chair, Department of Education

Thank You Letter for a Recommendation

Also review a thank you letter written to show appreciation for a reference for graduate school.

Graduate School Reference Thank You Letter Example

Alexandra Janning
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
555-555-5555
alexandra.janning@email.com

February 2, 2021

Jane Doe
Chair, Department of Education
Salitus College
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321

Dear Dr. Doe,

Thank you very much for the reference to Anycity Graduate School. I learned so much from you during my undergraduate career at Salitus, and I believe your faith in me gave me the confidence to achieve more than I thought possible.

I just learned that I have been accepted into the program! I really appreciate your support and the time you took to write personally to your colleagues at Anycity Graduate School on my behalf. 

Sincerely yours,

Signature (hard copy letter)

Alexandra Janning