The best letters of recommendation writers are those who know you well and can provide a strong evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed in graduate school.
You should ask:
- Someone who knows you well
- Someone with the title of “Professor” who has earned the degree which you are seeking
- Someone with whom you have taken an upper-division class (or classes)
NOTE: letters from family friends, employers, etc. are generally discouraged as they cannot speak to your potential for graduate study.
Once you have identified a list of three (or more) professors who will be your best advocates, set up an appointment to meet to discuss your request in person. You should make these requests as soon as possible once you have decided that you will be applying to graduate school – professors are generally pleased to write letters, but they have busy schedules and will need time to craft a strong letter of support. Notice of at least 4 weeks in advance of the deadline is preferable – more time is better!
You should be prepared at these meetings to discuss your plans for graduate school and to receive advice about how to proceed.
Each professor will ask for the information they require to write a letter of recommendation, but ideally you should provide her/him with the following information:
- A list of schools to which you are applying, due dates (in order, the earlier first) and the means by which the letters should be submitted including postal addresses if necessary (increasingly letters are submitted electronically, but it is possible that some schools will ask for hard copies).
- A draft of your statement of purpose.
- Your curriculum vitae or resume.
- A copy of the best work in the course you took with the professor.
Professors may also ask for a copy of your transcript, to know your GRE results, or to see your writing sample. Be prepared to provide information quickly once it is requested!
Most online systems will either notify you or allow you to see when a recommender has submitted their letter. If your recommenders are submitting letters in hard copy it may take longer for the system to indicate receipt of these materials.