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16 Jan

How to Ask: Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School

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When gathering together all the necessary documents to apply to a master’s program, it’s easy to get held up worrying about that GRE score or figuring out what kind of personal statement you want to make. But, one of the most important documents for your application doesn’t require studying or brainstorming: your graduate school recommendation letter.

It is an essential part of the application process. At Case Western Reserve University, a GRE score is required to apply to our Master of Science programs to show that you have the competencies to be a successful student (though waivers are available for those meeting certain requirements). And, your personal statement helps us understand your individual goals and passions. However, a recommendation letter for graduate school highlights your capabilities and successes as a colleague or a student.

Fortunately for those who have been asked to compile a list of references for a new job, this process isn’t much different. These individuals will be asked to assess your academic background, your capabilities and past accomplishments.

Who Should You Ask?

There are no strict dos and don’ts when it comes to deciding who are the right people to ask, but it’s important to make sure the institution you’re applying to doesn’t have any restrictions. For example, many schools, including Case Western Reserve University, won’t accept letters written by family members. Depending on your past experience, the perfect letter could come from a number of different people, but you should start by thinking about your employers, instructors and other professional and academic peers.

A former or current manager would be able to speak to the previous roles you’ve held within the organization. They would also be able to give examples of the skills you developed, the work you put in, and your soft skills, such as the times you demonstrated leadership or collaborated across departments. For some, finding an academic reference might be more challenging, but you may have had a past instructor or professor who you worked closely with that could serve as your reference. Would they be able to speak to how you thrived as a student or talk about a specific project where you showcased your capabilities?

At Case Western Reserve University, students are required to submit two letters of recommendation from professional or academic references. To ensure your references are representing you in your best light, be sure to take the time to find those who you’ve worked with closely and who can illustrate your skills to an admissions committee.

Finding the Right Way (and Time) to Ask

Chances are, your letter writers do not personally know the admissions deadlines for the school you’re applying to (if, for that matter, they even know you’re applying to graduate school yet). Even for references you’ve known for years, it’s best not to assume they’ll be able to rattle off a list of your better attributes right off the cuff. That’s why it’s essential to give your letter-writers as much advance notice and information as possible, even if you are in the middle of focusing on your GRE study plan.

Think about your own schedule. You might have a hectic two weeks ahead of a big presentation, but once that’s done, you’ll be back to your old routine. It’s safe to assume your references deal with the same ebbs and flows in their professional and personal lives.

You’re the one who will be losing out if you only give your favorite professor a week’s notice—just as she’s about to go on a two-week vacation. Some might even refuse if they feel like they won’t have enough time to do you justice. You want them to have time to reflect, go through old papers or projects, and be able to give concrete examples of how you’ve been an exceptional person to know. Giving them as much time as possible may actually help you get your first choice of references, as well.

Be prepared to answer some questions from them, too: What kind of information is the admissions team looking for? What type of program are you applying to? Some might even ask you directly if there’s a certain project or skill set you’d want them to discuss, so think of experiences you’ve had or projects you’ve worked on. It might help jog their memory and give them a better idea of what the institution would be interested in knowing about you.


Don’t Miss a Step With Case Western Reserve

A graduate school recommendation letter is another way for institutions to get to know you better. By putting careful thought and time into choosing your references, you can make this part of your application stress-free and impactful. The schools, like Case Western Reserve, care about your success during and after their program. Knowing that the members of your network are happy to take the time to recommend you as an exceptional applicant goes a long way in reinforcing your dedication.

At the Case School of Engineering, admissions decisions are made by a faculty committee from a number of departments as well as the program director. Learn more about our online graduate programs in engineering and our application process.