Letters of recommendation are a key part of your application. Strong ones provide meaningful support, but a lukewarm one can really hurt you. Who should write in support of your PhD application, and how can you make sure your letters are as good as they can be?
For your PhD app, you need LORs that can address your research experience and potential. Most of your letters, unless you have extensive work experience, should be from academic references. (If you have work experience, you can submit a work reference, but it should also focus on your research potential.) Ask people who know you well and can comment specifically and knowledgeably about your abilities.
When you ask your recommenders if they can write in support of your application, ask if they would be able to write you a “strong” letter. This provides a gentle way for a hesitant recommender to decline – they can let you know that they don’t think they know you well enough to write a “strong” letter (or you might sense their hesitation), and you can move on to someone else.
For the recommenders who are able to write for you, offer to supply whatever information will help them: your CV, a draft of your SOP, copies of work you produced for their class, etc. Offer to meet with them to discuss your goals. (They might not have time, but this can make their job easier!)
And always remember to follow up with a thank you note. (Ideally, you can write another thank you note after you get in, sharing the good news!)
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, has helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to top MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She’s also an expert on grad school funding and scholarships. Want Rebecca to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!