Applying to graduate school is an exciting yet daunting process. One of the most important components of your application is the letters of recommendation. But who should you ask to write these influential letters on your behalf?

Read on as we provide a comprehensive guide on selecting your letter writers to set you up for success.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Focus on asking professors, academic advisors, and professionals/supervisors who know you well and can speak to your academic abilities, relevant experience, and potential for graduate study.

Ask Professors who Know You and Your Abilities

When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation for graduate school, one of the most important factors to consider is choosing professors who know you well and are familiar with your abilities. These are the individuals who can provide valuable insights into your academic performance, work ethic, and potential for success in a graduate program.

Here are some key considerations for selecting the right professors to ask:

Professors from Relevant Coursework

One of the best choices for requesting a letter of recommendation is a professor from a course that is directly related to your field of study. These professors have likely seen your dedication, engagement, and aptitude for the subject matter.

They can provide specific examples of your knowledge and skills, which can carry significant weight in the admissions process.

Professors Who Supervised Research or Other Projects

If you have worked on research projects or other academic endeavors, professors who supervised or mentored you during those experiences can be excellent candidates for writing your recommendation letters.

These professors have not only seen your academic abilities but also your ability to work independently, think critically, and contribute to the field. Their letters can highlight your potential as a researcher or professional in your chosen field.

Avoid Asking Professors You Barely Know

While it may be tempting to approach a professor whose class you excelled in, but with whom you had little personal interaction, it is generally not recommended. A strong letter of recommendation should be personal and speak to your character, work ethic, and potential.

Professors who barely know you may struggle to write a compelling letter that truly reflects your abilities and potential. It’s important to choose professors who can provide a genuine and detailed account of your capabilities.

Remember, when asking for letters of recommendation, it’s crucial to approach professors with ample notice and provide them with all the necessary information, such as your resume, personal statement, and a brief summary of the graduate programs you are applying to.

This will help them tailor their letters to showcase your strengths and align with the specific requirements of each program. By selecting professors who know you well and can speak to your abilities, you can increase your chances of securing strong letters of recommendation for your graduate school applications.

Consider Asking Your Academic Advisor

When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation for graduate school, one of the first people you should consider reaching out to is your academic advisor. Your academic advisor is someone who knows you well, has seen your academic progress, and can speak to your abilities and potential as a graduate student.

They can provide valuable insights into your academic strengths, research abilities, and overall suitability for the program you are applying to.

Academic advisors are typically well-versed in the requirements and expectations of graduate programs in their field. They can guide you in choosing the right program and offer advice on how to tailor your application to stand out.

Their recommendation can carry significant weight with admissions committees, as they have a deep understanding of your academic potential and can provide specific examples to support their claims.

Benefits of asking your academic advisor:

  1. Familiarity: Your academic advisor knows you well and can provide a personalized and detailed recommendation.
  2. Expertise: They have a thorough understanding of the field and can speak to your abilities within the context of the program you are applying to.
  3. Connections: Academic advisors often have connections within the academic community and can help you make valuable connections.
  4. Insider knowledge: They can provide valuable insights into the application process and share tips on how to make your application stand out.

It’s important to approach your academic advisor early in the process, as they may have a limited capacity to write recommendations and may require some time to gather the necessary information. Make sure to provide them with all relevant details, such as the programs you are applying to, deadlines, and any specific areas you would like them to highlight in their recommendation.

If your academic advisor feels that they are not the best person to write your recommendation, they may be able to suggest other faculty members or professionals who can provide a more targeted and specific recommendation for your chosen field of study.

Remember, your academic advisor wants to see you succeed and will likely be happy to support your graduate school aspirations. Building a strong relationship with your academic advisor throughout your undergraduate studies can greatly benefit you when it comes time to ask for letters of recommendation.

Ask Professionals or Supervisors Who Can Endorse Skills

When it comes to requesting letters of recommendation for graduate school, it’s important to choose individuals who can speak to your abilities and qualifications. Asking professionals or supervisors who have worked closely with you and can endorse your skills is a great strategy.

These individuals have had the opportunity to observe your work ethic, problem-solving abilities, and overall performance, making them ideal candidates to provide a strong recommendation.

Managers/Supervisors from Internships or Jobs

If you have completed internships or held jobs during your undergraduate studies or after, consider reaching out to your managers or supervisors from these experiences. These individuals have firsthand knowledge of your work and can provide valuable insights into your professional growth and potential.

They can highlight specific projects you worked on, your ability to meet deadlines, and your contribution to the team. These recommendations can carry significant weight in the eyes of admissions committees.

According to a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 91% of employers consider internships when evaluating potential hires. This statistic highlights the importance of internships in developing relevant skills and gaining professional experience.

Therefore, a letter of recommendation from a manager or supervisor in such a setting can greatly enhance your application.

Professionals You’ve Worked Closely With

Another group of professionals to consider when seeking letters of recommendation are those with whom you have worked closely. This could include professors, research advisors, or mentors from extracurricular activities.

These individuals have likely spent a significant amount of time with you and can provide detailed insights into your academic abilities, research skills, or leadership qualities.

When choosing professionals to request recommendations from, it’s important to consider the relevance of their expertise to your field of study or desired graduate program. Admissions committees will value recommendations from individuals who can speak to your aptitude for the specific program you are applying to.

For example, if you are applying to a graduate program in engineering, a recommendation from a professor who taught you a relevant engineering course would be highly valuable.

Remember, when asking professionals or supervisors for letters of recommendation, it’s crucial to give them enough time to write a thoughtful and compelling letter. Be sure to provide them with all the necessary information, such as the application deadline, the specific program you are applying to, and any specific points you would like them to address in the letter.

Give Plenty of Time and Information to Writers

When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for your graduate school application, it is important to give them plenty of time and information. This will ensure that they have enough time to write a thoughtful and detailed letter that highlights your strengths and achievements.

Provide Materials Like Resume and Transcripts

One way to help your letter writers is to provide them with materials that will give them a better understanding of your qualifications and accomplishments. This can include your resume, transcripts, and any other relevant documents that showcase your academic or professional achievements.

By providing these materials, you are giving your letter writers the necessary information to write a strong and effective letter of recommendation.

Be Clear on Deadlines and How to Submit Letters

It is essential to be clear with your letter writers about the deadlines for submitting the recommendation letters. Make sure to communicate the specific date by which the letters need to be submitted, as well as any instructions on how to submit them.

Some graduate programs may have an online portal or specific email address for submission, so be sure to provide this information to your letter writers. This will help ensure that the letters are submitted on time and in the correct format.

Aim for at Least One Month of Lead Time

When asking for letters of recommendation, it is advisable to give your letter writers at least one month of lead time. This will allow them enough time to gather their thoughts, write a well-crafted letter, and submit it before the deadline.

Keep in mind that your letter writers may have other commitments and responsibilities, so giving them ample time will increase the chances of them being able to write a strong letter for you.

By following these guidelines and giving your letter writers plenty of time and information, you are setting yourself up for success in obtaining strong letters of recommendation for your graduate school application.

Remember to express your gratitude and appreciation for their time and effort, as they are doing you a great favor by supporting your academic and professional aspirations.

Optional: Consider a Peer or Mentor for a Different Perspective

When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation for graduate school, most students immediately think of professors or supervisors. While these individuals can provide valuable insights into your academic and professional abilities, it is important to consider alternative options that can offer a different perspective on your qualifications.

One such option is to ask a peer or mentor for a letter of recommendation.

Benefits of asking a peer

Asking a peer to write a letter of recommendation can provide a unique viewpoint on your abilities and character. Peers have firsthand experience working with you on group projects, collaborating on research, or participating in extracurricular activities.

They can speak to your teamwork skills, leadership qualities, and ability to communicate effectively. Additionally, a peer’s perspective can offer a more relatable and personal touch to your application, as they can share anecdotes and stories that highlight your strengths.

Benefits of asking a mentor

Mentors, on the other hand, are individuals who have guided and supported you throughout your academic or professional journey. They have witnessed your growth and development over time and can provide a comprehensive assessment of your abilities.

Mentors often have a deep understanding of your goals, aspirations, and potential, and their recommendation can carry significant weight in the eyes of admissions committees. Moreover, a mentor’s endorsement can demonstrate your commitment to personal and professional growth, as well as your ability to seek guidance and learn from others.

By considering a peer or mentor for a letter of recommendation, you can showcase a different side of your qualifications and highlight the relationships you have built within your academic or professional community.

It is important to remember that while their perspectives may differ from those of professors or supervisors, they can still offer valuable insights into your character, abilities, and potential for success in graduate school.


Getting strong letters of recommendation is a vital part of applying to graduate school. Focus your requests on professors, advisors, and professionals who know you well academically and can speak in-depth about your skills, competence, and potential.

Provide them with resources and ample time to write compelling endorsements. With strategic planning and care, you can obtain outstanding letters to help your grad school dreams come true.

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